Senate vice president Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) said Monday that the Senate Standing Committee of Fiscal Affairs that he chairs has successfully included a provision in the government’s budget bill that is now a law that exceeds the constitutionally mandated 25% funding for the Public School System.
Under the budget bill that Gov. Ralph DLG Torres signed Thursday into Public Law 21-25, the appropriation for the Public School System is $24,117,582, while the PSS Board of Education is earmarked $153,131.
Hofschneider said his committee also included a provision that enable the government to fulfill the local match requirement for Medicaid, which will allow the CNMI to avail of $60 million in Medicaid federal funding.
Another provision also secures the return of most of furloughed public employees this fiscal year 2021, he said.
Hofschneider said the committee further determined that the budget needed another provision to ensure funding needs are met, so they gave Torres 100% reprogramming authority over the Executive Branch. This authority, he said, is usually reserved for responding to emergency situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the senator said, the committee found it necessary to extend this authority into fiscal year 2021, with or without an emergency declaration.
“It is critical that the governor has the flexibility to move monies within the Executive Branch to address any unanticipated funding needs in a timely manner,” he said, adding that the committee is confident that Torres will use this flexibility in the best interest of the Commonwealth.
Speaking on behalf of the committee, Hofschneider thanked the Legislature for their efforts to pass the budget for fiscal year 2021. “I applaud [also] Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and his team for burning the midnight oil to avert a government shutdown.”
He said nearly every legislative resource at the Senate’s disposal was poured into this budget. The committee sat down with numerous government entities in early August to discuss budgetary needs for the next fiscal year, he said, adding that the committee also consulted with Finance Secretary David Atalig to obtain a true picture of the government’s finances. He said these lengthy conversations gave the committee valuable insight into how to adequately support the entire government in light of the economic hardship.
The senator said the committee convened daily in the final weeks of the fiscal year to develop a budget that sufficiently funded all government functions. “It was during this time that the committee discovered previously untapped resources and policy mechanisms that could maximize each government dollar,” he said.
Hofschneider said the Legislature’s bicameral conference committee also worked collaboratively to reach an agreement on the provisions of the budget bill.
Hofschneider led the Senate team, while Rep. Ivan A. Blanco (R-Saipan) chaired the House’s team in the conference committee that was tasked to resolve disagreements in the budget bill.