Rep. Angel A. Demapan (R-Saipan), who chairs the House Committee on Ways and Means, said yesterday that the committee has “taken note” of the amount owed the Public School System and assured that it would be appropriated once “critical appropriations” are addressed.
Demapan said in yesterday’s session that his committee is aware of the amount owed PSS and that appropriations would occur once critical appropriations with “hard deadlines” are taken cared of first.
That was in response to Rep. Francisco Dela Cruz’s (R-Saipan) request to “set aside” 25 percent of next fiscal year’s general funds that PSS is entitled to under the CNMI Constitution. Similarly, Sen. Paul Mangloña (Ind-Saipan) has been vocal about addressing the constitutional mandate.
A constitutional mandate entitles PSS to 25 percent of all appropriations.
“We have taken note of this amount and we have scheduled that this would be appropriated once we [take] care of critical appropriations that have deadlines,” said Demapan.
He cited the two most recent appropriations of $28.6 million and $8.6 million, most of which went to land compensation judgments and payment of what the Commonwealth government owes the Settlement Fund.
“We understand PSS is owed 25 percent of these funds but because of the immediate deadlines that was before us by the court, we agreed to appropriate this amount to take care of the land compensation judgment and that we would take care of PSS entitlement in subsequent legislation,” he said.
The land compensation judgment had a deadline of Aug. 18, 2017, as previously ordered by Superior Court judge pro tempore Alberto C. Lamorena III. A bill to address this issue was enacted on Aug. 16, 2017. House Bill 20-103 addressed the largest debt the Commonwealth government owed—the compensation for the Maria Mangabao estate amounting to more than $16 million and an interest rate of about $1 million annually.
When the audit reports for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 came out, it was found out that the Commonwealth government owed the Settlement Fund about $7.1 million.
That forced Settlement Fund trustee Joyce Tang to issue an ultimatum to the Commonwealth government in the third of a series of letters addressed to the governor. Tang asserted that without the Commonwealth government’s commitment to address the debt owed the Settlement Fund, it would cease processing the 25 percent payments to retirees. The deadline was set on Aug. 28, 2017. HB 20-116, the bill that appropriated the funding for the payment, is now Public Law 20-09.
Demapan also explained that the Legislature also addressed first the retroactive lump-sum payments owed government employees stuck at Step 12 during the financial austerity measures back in the early 2000’s. The bill has not yet been enacted due to technical concerns, however the money to address the issue has been set aside and a substitute bill to address the concerns just passed the House.
Board of Education director Herman Guerrero had harsh comments for the Legislature when the House acted only on the fiscal year 2018 budget bill, or HB 20-105, when it came out of the bicameral conference committee.
Guerrero wished that the Legislature would “stop playing games” and that the body has been “leaving PSS out” of appropriations.
“I hope that this body seriously considers that delaying PSS money affects the student’s education in the Commonwealth,” he said, challenging the Legislature to prove that they support education by appropriating PSS’ entitlements.
“You cannot keep ignoring PSS because the Constitution is very clear; the 25 percent is an earmark,” Guerrero said.
House Speaker Rafal Demapan (R-Saipan) said in a previous interview that the Legislature would address underfunded agencies, PSS included.
“We would continue to address their needs through other sources of funding. The budgeting work does not end here. We would continue to address those other departments in dire need of funds,” he said.