With more cuts and belt-tightening measures expected in the coming months, minority leader Rep. Edwin K. Propst (Ind-Saipan) is urging the administration of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres to break its silence about the true financial state of the CNMI and tell the Legislature about it.
“The administration should stop the nonsense,” Propst said in an interview Tuesday. “It is shameful that they are not discussing how bad things are.”
He said that his staff did not get paid after his office’s operational funds were cut. “We have no money to pay the vendors or the overtime of employees after Super Typhoon Yutu. …People who are still travelling at this time of austerity shocks me. …Ranking officials should stop their travel, even the governor.”
He added that the allotment reduction for the Legislature clearly shows that things are financially bad for the CNMI. “The information on how things are difficult should be privy to all. We did not meet the projections for the budget and this is in large part due to [Imperial Pacific International] not paying the [Business Gross Revenue Tax].”
In its 2018 annual report, IPI reported revenue of almost $416 million compared to the over $993 million it collected in 2017.
Propst said the Legislature needs to get information like this to enable lawmakers to do their job of managing the government’s finances. He also lamented the lack of information from the Finance Department. “So, how much is it [IPI’s profit and the BGRT paid]? Our questions are not yet answered by Finance.”
“That’s why I’m considering asking the House Gaming Committee chair, Rep. Ralph Yumul, to conduct an oversight [hearing] on the Commonwealth Casino Commission. Some people are not being truthful with their statements.”
Rep. Tina Sablan (Ind-Saipan) said that they have received reports from the Office of Management and Budget that the April allotment of each House of Representatives member would be reduced from $7,500 per month to $3,000.
“Worse, the April deposit hadn’t even been made yet and we’re having difficulty getting clear answers from either OMB or Finance about what allotment would come in,” she said. “Some members had to send their staff home [Monday]. The staff were supposed to be paid, but there were insufficient funds to pay them.”
She described as illegal the reduction in the Legislature’s allocation. “[It’s] way beyond the proportionate across-the-board reduction that the governor ordered. That’s a 60-percent cut to our operational budget for each member.”
“And if the governor is planning to implement a much larger proportionate reduction, he has to notify us first. That’s required by the Planning and Budgeting Act. There’s a process, and that process was not followed.”
Sablan said this is the second time in two months that the Torres administration attempted to impose drastic and “illegal cuts on the Legislature.”
The Torres administration had proposed a $233.22-million budget for next fiscal year. The amount available for appropriation is $147 million, a 9.7-percent decrease from last fiscal year’s budget of $258 million—a difference of $24.9 million.