An appropriation bill that would allocate funds to pay what the CNMI government owes the Settlement Fund passed the Senate with amendments last week, sending the measure back to the House.
House Bill 20-116 SD2 was sent back to the House since a previous bill with the similar intent to appropriate funds for amounts the Commonwealth government owes the Settlement Fund had been recalled.
The intent of HB 20-116 is to address the Commonwealth government’s balance with the Settlement Fund amounting to $7.1 million that remains unpaid. The $7.1 million is the combined difference in the minimum annual payment of $25 million and $27 million from 17 percent of the total annual revenue for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, respectively.
During discussions on HB 20-116, Sen. Paul Mangloña (Ind-Rota) questioned the legislation’s failure to specify a source of funds, plunging the Senate body into a 40-minute recess discussing the technicality of the legislation with House legal counsels John Cool and Joe Taijeron. Sen. Sixto Igisomar (R-Saipan) also brought up some concerns with the bill.
Following the recess, the Senate unanimously adopted Sen. Francisco Borja’s (R-Tinian) floor amendment that specifies the source of funding.
This is the second appropriation bill where the Senate pointed out that the bill failed to specify a source of funds.
The Senate had also questioned the failure of HB 20-108 to specify a source of funds. The administration of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres had issued a statement, saying that the bill would be revisited due to “technical concerns.” HB 20-108 had sought to appropriate $1.4 million to address the remaining 330 employees who had their wages frozen at Step 12.
Rep. Angel Demapan (R-Saipan), author of both bills, told reporters that the source of funding is the casino-generated business gross revenue tax. According to the Senate, this information was not included in the language of both bills.