House Speaker Rafael S. Demapan (R-Saipan) warned the Public School System of unintended consequences when involving the courts in defining the term “general funds.”
Demapan said in a statement prior to PSS filing a lawsuit against the CNMI government that the move may result in unintended effects, as history has shown, such as a redefinition of “general funds” to include federal funds.
Demapan said that if the CNMI Judiciary rules that both local and federal funds PSS receives annually counts toward its “annual budget,” then PSS would be left with even less of a budget than before.
“There is a real possibility that PSS could lose this case and, in the process, lose millions of dollars in funding. If this scenario seems impossible, then the [Judiciary] would not be needed to resolve the matter,” Demapan warned in his statement published last Aug. 10, 2018.
Almost half of PSS’ total budget comes from federal grants.
According to the CNMI Constitution, PSS is entitled to 25 percent of CNMI “general funds.” It is unclear whether “general funds” refer to CNMI funds prior to annual earmarks imposed by law.
Currently, the Legislature appropriates to PSS at least 25 percent of “general funds” after the deduction of annual earmarks.
Because of the lack of clarity, PSS interprets the CNMI Constitution to include annual earmarks, pushing PSS to strive toward a certified question with a member of the legislature cosigning it.
According to a member of the Board of Education, they approached the speaker to cosign the certified question. He was also given a deadline of July 31, 2018, to cosign or else PSS would sue the CNMI government, which was officially filed Monday.
Demapan issued the statement to explain why he would not cosign the certified question, ultimately leading the education agency to file a lawsuit against the CNMI government last Monday.
In his Aug. 10, 2018, press release, Demapan explained that the situation, as it is now, can be better managed through “better communications” and suing the CNMI government might result in even more complications since it invites the Judiciary into the legislative and appropriations process and introduces “possible separation of powers issues and political questions.”
“We must be mindful that any litigation may result in unintended consequences. There also will be costs,” said Demapan. “Neither the Legislature nor the Board of Education can predict what will happen in the event that the CNMI Supreme Court decides to resolve a ‘certified question,’” he added, citing a recent “well intended” effort to reduce the size of the Legislature that ended up adding more seats.
“…[This is] the unforeseen result of a recent well-intentioned certified question gone awry,” wrote Demapan, who doubts that a certified question would resolve the disagreement.