Bill could reach governor’s desk in few days
Indications are good that the House of Representatives will accept the Senate-amended $134.33-million government budget bill for fiscal year 2015 that will give the Public School System an added $1.61 million to help reduce teacher-student ratio in classrooms, Ways and Means Committee chair Tony Sablan (Ind-Saipan) told Saipan Tribune yesterday. The CNMI would set a record early passage of a spending bill in August if the House approves the Senate version on Thursday.
Senators made sure that PSS will spend over $1.161 million of the total additional funds only to hire 35 new teachers.
“The only way to reduce teacher-student ratio is to put more teachers in the classroom,” Sablan said.
Rep. Ralph Yumul (Ind-Saipan), chairman of the ad-hoc Cost-Cutting Committee, said the panel supports funneling funds as a result of cost-cutting measures to PSS.
“If the House passes the budget on Thursday, we might have a budget within two weeks,” Yumul said.
Budget bills almost always get passed right before the start of a new fiscal year on Oct. 1 but it’s likely not the case in this election year. In 2010, the government had to partially shut down because the Legislature failed to reach a compromise on a spending package.
Sablan said the Ways and Means Committee “anticipated” the Senate’s amendments, including the increased PSS budget, the additional funding for the Northern Marianas Technical Institute, and the restoration of close to $400,000 for Tinian.
In fact, the two committees from the House and Senate with oversight over government budgets communicated before the Senate could act on the budget bill.
“If there’s no need to reject it, if we don’t have a problem with it, we would recommend passage of the bill. …We discussed the major amendments with the Senate Fiscal Affairs and I’m glad we reached a compromise,” Sablan said in an interview on Capital Hill.
Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee chair Jovita Taimanao (Ind-Rota) is also looking forward to a House approval of the Senate-amended spending package.
If for some reason the House rejects the Senate version, Sablan said there is no reason a conference committee would take more than two days to come up with a compromise bill.
“That is, if everybody sits down together and approach it with open mind, and come up with a responsible expenditure plan for 2015. I don’t see any reason why we can’t do it in one or two days,” Sablan added.
Sablan anticipates a supplemental budget before fiscal year 2015 is out “so no need to haggle now over thousands of dollars to address items.”
“The important thing is that we’re able to bring in the Marianas Visitors Authority and work out a compromise. They agreed,” he added.
The additional funding given to PSS came from funds earlier set aside for MVA.
Sablan said the Ways and Means Committee, which will meet today, also is likely to support the Senate’s reduction in lawmakers’ allocations and leadership funds to be able to restore $400,000 for Tinian.
He said there is also support for the Senate’s decision to increase NMTI’s funding from $200,000 to $400,000. The additional $200,000 came from $100,000 each taken from PSS and Northern Marianas College.
“The other amendments are minor issues. Again, in my view they won’t be a major concern at least in the committee,” Sablan added.
He said this could be the first time in CNMI legislative history that a budget passes both the House and Senate in August. The new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.
“You could say 2014 is history in the making,” he said. “I can say this is what happens when people take the time to communicate. We were able to communicate with the Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee. We compromised on certain provisions and I’m glad to see them in the Senate version.”
House Bill 18-201, House Draft 3, Senate Substitute 2 is now back to the House for approval or rejection after the Senate passage on Thursday last week.
The Senate gave PSS, as promised, an additional $1.61 million, bringing its budget to over $33.441 million for 2015. This will enable PSS to, among other things, meet the federal maintenance-of-efforts requirements and reduce teacher-student ratio.