House Speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao (R-Saipan) said each member of the Legislature are allocated $90,000 every fiscal year, which gives them a monthly budget of $7,500. Sadly, that $7,500 monthly allocation—that they use to pay for their personnel and staff and daily operations—will be reduced for the remainder of fiscal year 2019.
Attao said this was what the Office of Management and Budget told them when they recently met with Virginia Villagomez, the OMB special assistant. “The allocation [for the Legislature] is in the budget. …the budget for each member as per [fiscal year] 2019 budget allotment is just like 2018. It’s $90,000 per member. Nothing more than that. There are no other funds that are on the side to get additional funds from.”
Attao gave this clarification to belie information that says contrary. “That’s for the whole [fiscal year]. That’s all under the operations so we can pay for personnel and use money for our daily operations. That’s it, there’s no additional money contrary to what other people out there say. We live within those means and it will decrease further after the cuts.”
The Legislature, in separate responses by Attao and Senate President Victor B. Hocog (R-Rota) to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ communication, said they would comply with the administration’s implementation of a 5-percent reduction in their appropriations. “The House and Senate actions will be coordinated to assure constitutional requirements of equal allocations to each member.”
On the House side, Attao said he and the other 19 members have different ways of paying their staff and office spending. “Some may pay $3,000 or $4,000 in personnel costs; it depends on the member you ask. Every single member of the Legislature has to get the exact amount of money, because that is in the [CNMI] Constitution.”
Attao said, however, that even if they agreed to the cuts for the rest of fiscal year 2019, the Executive Branch should inform them ahead of time and not implement it abruptly without prior information. “The cuts will be for the rest of the [fiscal year]. Technically, we already started with the cuts at 5 percent. But, when they did it…we told them, ‘You can’t do that.’”
He explained that the Legislature, just like the Northern Marianas College and the Public School System, the money to pay for their personnel and other staff expenses are included in the operational budget allocated to them every year and that their staff have contracts with each of them. “That’s why we cannot breach our contracts that we already signed. We have to go back and revisit our contracts and fix them.”
Attao said that he’s telling the other members to plan ahead until things return to normal. “We’re going to be in the position that this is going to continue.
He added that the Legislature and OMB reached an agreement where they would get the same allotment of $7,500. “We will get the allotment so we can take care of our personnel and work out their contracts.
“We’re getting the same amount in April. But, it will be a bigger cut in May [and so forth]. The cuts are already happening, but we’re going to have to get money from the subsequent year or months to put it into this month.”