The $233-million fiscal year 2020 budget bill is now ready for action by the entire CNMI House of Representatives.
The House Ways and Means Committee held two days of marathon meetings over the weekend to iron out their version of the budget bill.
The committee met at 4pm on Friday, finished a little over 7pm, resumed at 9am on Saturday, and agreed to come out with a final product at past 1:30pm. The House will be having a session at 10am today to take up the bill.
House lawmakers are also set to discuss today House Concurrent Resolution 21-1, which sets the outlines available budgetary resources at $148.8 million.
“The budget ceiling is the same at $233 million but the resource available for appropriation is now approximately $148.9 million,” said Rep. Tina Sablan (Ind-Saipan), minority bloc member who is with the committee.
Committee Rep. Ivan A. Blanco (R-Saipan) told Saipan Tribune that there are several provisions that the committee agreed to change, including each of the discretionary funds of the offices of the governor and lieutenant governor.
“We struck [the discretionary funds] out. We eliminated it and allocated the funds to other agencies,” he said. “In case we float a bond, we inserted language that the Legislature will appropriate any funds from the general fund being freed up because of the floating of the pension bonds.”
The committee also inserted language that would allow the Legislature to get up-to-date figures on the government’s collections and expenditures. “Because we feel that we would be able to make informed decisions if we had updated information rather that information that’s a few quarters back.”
Funding for the Carolinian Affairs Office and Indigenous Affairs Office was also discussed; several members questioned why the former had more funds. Rep. Roman C. Benavente (R-Saipan) suggested combining both agencies into one.
But Blanco pointed out that having separate CAO and IAO is based on the CNMI Constitution. “If you look at their operations, they are different. They have different amounts allocated; one is $9,000 (IAO) while the other one is $58,000 (CAO). If we look at the numbers of personnel: one has more, that’s why there’s more budget allotted. CAO has more personnel.”
Rep. Joel C. Camacho (R-Saipan) also introduced a motion that would appropriate funding to give the Legislative Bureau’s fiscal analysts—David Demapan and Perry Tenorio—access and training to the JDA software.
“This will provide a better system and a more efficient data gathering. It will give us the link that we need. The Legislature appropriated money and we need access to this information. The provision is for funding the training,” Camacho told Saipan Tribune.
Blanco said the committee is pleased with the product of their two-day meeting. “All Ways and Means members had their input. Before we started this exercise, we also had the opportunity to sit with the Senate members of the Fiscal Affairs Committee and asked them what…they want to include.”
“Overall, in my opinion and to the best of my knowledge, we tried to get everybody in on this. This is the product that we came out with today. I’m pretty sure there will be changes, but that’s fine; it is a working document. We want our partners at the Senate to look at it carefully in case we missed anything.”
Sablan thanked Blanco and the majority members of the committee for giving the minority the chance to hear some of their requests. “The minority prepared a list of requests for the committee to consider in the budget act. Some, but not all, of our recommendations were accepted and incorporated into the draft budget act,” she said.
House floor leader Rep. John Paul P. Sablan (R-Saipan) told Saipan Tribune that the budget bill is a package that both the majority and minority worked on.
The Legislature must pass the budget before the end of this fiscal year, Sept. 30.