The House of Representatives yesterday adopted the Senate’s version of the House Concurrent Resolution that proposes $96.47 million in available revenue and resources for appropriation for government activities in fiscal year 2021.
The Senate’s version is $13.81 million more from what the House had originally adopted in the concurrent resolution that proposes $82.65 million for appropriation.
All 19 representatives voted to adopt House Concurrent Resolution 21-2, SS1, that the Senate had just adopted during a session last Friday. Only Rep. Janet U. Maratita (R-Saipan) voted against its adoption.
With this development, the Senate must pass its own fiscal year 2021 budget and transmit it to the House for its acceptance or rejection.
The CNMI government must enact a new and balanced budget before Oct. 1 to avoid a partial government shutdown.
Last July 1, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres submitted a revised revenue projection in the amount of $144.41 million. Of this amount, the governor approved $82.65 million for government appropriation.
Last July 29, the House adopted House Concurrent Resolution 21-2 authored by House Ways and Means chairman Rep. Ivan Blanco (R-Saipan). The resolution basically concurs with Torres’ revised budget proposal for FY 2021 in the amount of $82.65 million.
In voting against the adoption, Maratita cited that there is no appendix as to what they cannot do with the remaining $10 million.
“I understand that they took like 25% to the Public School System and I think that’s great. But there’s no black and white in it,” she pointed out.
Maratita said the Senate should have just include it at least in the language in the House Concurrent Resolution No. 21-2, SS1, so that they know where these allocations are going to.
“I just cannot vote on something that I don’t know. I’m blinded,” she said.
Maratita asked where is this $13.7 million going to.
She said she opposed the fact that the Senate suspends the earmarking to support the solid waste revolving fund program.
The lawmaker said she just can’t understand why the Senate is taking away the $6 million for the Government Health Life Insurance, the reimbursement for the airport overtime for the Customs officers, and the hotel tax.
“I just cannot support the suspension of earmarks funding. And on top of that I just cannot support the Senate substitute bill without showing me where are these $13 million going to,” she said.
Maratita said it’s all hearsay of the 25% going to PSS.
Maratita said how would she know that out of the $13.7 million, 25% is going to PSS.
“What about the $10 million? Where is it going to? I need to see so I can be satisfied knowing that yes these suspension of earmarks are going to other agencies, for example PSS, the 25%,” she said.
She said she is very concerned with the solid waste funds especially earmarks supposedly going to the Marianas Visitors Authority and GHLI.
Maratita said it’s something that they cannot play around with this as the CNMI has already been warned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
At yesterday’s session, after clarifying some legal issues with House legal counsel John Cool, Rep. Tina Sablan (D-Saipan) said that as a pragmatic matter they do need to move forward in this budget process.
Sablan said they need to meet with the Senate as soon as possible to work out a balanced budget that is constitutional.
Rep. Sheila Babauta (D-Saipan) said she does agree that they need to know where the funds will be allocated and she too agrees that they all do not want a government shutdown, no pay days, and paying bills late.
Babauta said that the government and the people are entirely reliant on federal funding right now.
Babauta said they have to pass a budget in seven days and must deliberate on the budget first.
She said this concurrent resolution just allows them to get to step two.
“We can do our work there. We can meet with the Senate and do our work there and ensure that these programs and these agencies are not massively negatively impacted,” Babauta said.
Before the Senate adopted Friday the concurrent resolution, Senate vice president Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian), who chairs the Fiscal Affairs Committee, said they took the position of suspending several earmarks most notably for the solid waste, GHLI, Marianas Public Land Trust interest, and MVA.
Hofschneider said with the suspension, the total local revenue and resources available for appropriation is $96,476,054 and to include the Department of Public Lands’ $4,556,164, would bring to a grand total of $101,032,218.
“So basically that is the rundown of what the Committee on Fiscal Affairs proposes for this concurrent resolution. So I move forward to its adoption,” Hofschneider said.
Under the original House’s resolution, the total local revenue and resource available for appropriation is $82,656,813 and to include DPL’s $4,556,164, would bring to a grand total of $87,212,977.