Fiscal year 2020 budget talks are headed toward the unprecedented goal of skipping the conference committee to shoot the annual expenditure bill toward the Governor’s Office as quickly as possible.
In a bid to meet that goal, the Senate broke off from their session yesterday for five-hour recess to discuss with members of the House of Representatives House Bill 21-64, which is still listed in the Senate’s bill calendar as the House version of the budget.
H.B. 21-64 was reported out of the Fiscal Affairs Committee last Wednesday with no amendments.
Committee chair Sen. Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian) told Saipan Tribune yesterday that the goal is to skip the conference committee and come up with an end product more quickly.
“What we are trying to attempt here is to work with the House members, to have them accept the Senate product so that we can avert the need for a conference committee or a need for them rejecting our version and [forming] a conference committee,” he said.
A conference committee is an ad-hoc panel created to resolve disagreements on a specific bill. The heads of the Senate and the House of Representatives appoint the committee’s members.
All annual budget bills since fiscal year 2012 have been products of conference committees. Before that, the government was allowed to go into continuing resolutions, which means adopting the previous year’s budget ceiling.
“We actually tried to do this [before but it didn’t push through]. We are actually very optimistic and confident that things are…going to happen,” Hofschneider said.
“I am very, very confident that [we will come up with a final budget for Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ review before the deadline],” he told Saipan Tribune. The deadline for the fiscal year 2020 budget is Sept. 30, 2019. Failure to enact a fiscal year 2020 budget would result in the shutdown of the government until the governor enacts a budget bill.
The Senate convened yesterday for a session at 11am in the Senate chamber on Capital Hill, but went into recess at around 11:30am to go into discussions on H.B. 21-64. It wasn’t until around 4:30pm when the Senate got out of recess, only to go into another recess to reconvene discussions today, at 9am.