House Speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao (R-Saipan) has asked the Ways and Means Committee to get the CNMI budget bill ready for action in next week’s session.
Ways and Means chair Rep. Ivan A. Blanco (R-Saipan) has scheduled a 4pm meeting today where he and the 12 other committee members are expected to come up with a final product.
The total local revenue and resources available for appropriation went to $148.8 million from $147.1 million —an increase of over $1.7 million based on House Concurrent Resolution 21-1, Senate Draft 1.
Attao told Saipan Tribune that they hope to transmit the budget bill to the Senate as soon as they pass it, “so they can act on it sooner.”
“If we had to go into conference committee, we can actually take care of the concerns even prior to any worries of a looming shutdown that might be brought up in the future,” Attao said.
He added that having the budget passed by the Legislature—House and Senate—is their No. 1 priority. “We have a constitutional mandate to pass the budget and have it signed into law before Oct. 1 [the start of fiscal year 2020]. Failing to do that, we’re going to have a government shutdown. As much as possible we don’t want to worry about getting to that point. That’s why we want to get the budget out of the House before the month ends.”
Attao pointed out that, after the budget, they still face the daunting task of ending the government austerity. “We still have the difficult task of finding the needed resources to get our people out of this austerity measure. And we are also looking at angles and solutions to get to that point to get us out of austerity now and prevent any of it in the future.”
He added that the House will hold a session on Monday, but passing the budget is not part of the agenda. “We still have some stuff that’s on calendar that we’re going to take care off. We also have the concurrent resolution that was adopted by the Senate. The Senate made some amendments on [C.R. 21-1] and we have to adopt that version.”
“We have to provide the [Office of the] Governor an adjusted ceiling on the resolution so they can concur with it. Then we will move on with the budget. Our target is next week on June 27, Thursday, to specifically entertain the budget.”
In a separate interview yesterday, Blanco said that Attao wants to get the budget bill done as fast as possible. “The committee is…trying to have an end product from the House that the Senate can work on next month, where they have a month to discuss it.”
“Speaker Attao wants to call a session next week. We’re meeting [today] and hope to adopt the budget bill at the committee level, then file it by Monday. Then the speaker can call a session, either by Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday. The Legislative Bureau is working on the final draft,” Blanco said.
Rep. Tina Sablan (Ind-Saipan), one of the two members of the minority bloc that are part of the Ways and Means Committee, thanked Blanco for always reaching out to them to hear their concerns and get their opinion.
“Chair Blanco has always been very collaborative and has always been open to accepting ideas from the minority. He’s willing to put these ideas up to the committee. We appreciate that about him and his leadership,” Sablan told Saipan Tribune.