In a bid to expedite approval of the much-delayed budget for this fiscal year, Senate President Paul A. Manglona has urged House Speaker Benigno R. Fitial to immediately appoint members to the anticipated bicameral meeting to tackle the spending measure.
“I am going to ask the Speaker to sit down and get the conference committee members appointed so that we can move forward to address the budget,” he said.
The move came after the Senate approved the FY 2001 budget amounting to $221.66 million last week, making substantial changes to the proposal from the House of Representatives.
Although the lower house has yet to formally reject the Senate version, it is expected to vote against the amendments which will bring the budget process to the negotiating table between the two chambers.
Senators made drastic cuts to the funding earmarked for several government agencies and departments to increase share of critical programs they deemed were necessary, including scholarship and medical referral programs.
At least $10 million were taken away from the executive branch to finance the programs being supported or endorsed by the upper house, according to Senate Vice President Thomas P. Villagomez.
Among the items that may be negotiated during the forthcoming bicameral conference include the $700,000 budget for lobbying campaign in Washington D.C. that were eliminated by the Senate as well as the budget of the Marianas Visitors Authority.
Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee chair Sen. Edward U. Maratita expressed hope of holding the joint meeting as soon as possible to iron out the differences before the year is over.
“We should address the differences as soon as possible and get this thing over it so we can give this over to the governor to decide on what he wants to do,” he said.
The Rota senator, however, added that while he is willing to reach a compromise with the House on the budget items, he will not agree to eliminating the $2 million the Senate set aside for settlement of the retroactive salary increase of close to 2,000 existing and former government employees.
Mr. Maratita, along with Senate Floor Leader Pete P. Reyes from Saipan and Sen. Joaquin G. Adriano from Tinian, has been designated as members of the bicameral conference committee by Mr. Manglona.
The House has yet to name its representatives, although Ways and Means Committee chair Rep. Antonio M. Camacho and Floor Leader Oscar M. Babauta sat down with their counterparts during the bicameral meeting held for the FY 2000 budget.