In a vote of 11-9, House Bill 21-124, or the Appropriations and Budget Authority Act of 2021, passed the House of Representatives yesterday.
H.B. 21-124 appropriates local funds for the operations and activities of the CNMI government, its agencies, instrumentalities, independent agencies and political subdivisions, and provides authority for government corporations for fiscal year 2021 starting Oct. 1, 2020, and ending Sept. 30, 2021.
The total identified budgetary resources for fiscal year 2021 is $144,415,554.00, subject to adjustments bringing it down to $87,212,976.00, where $4,366,640 is appropriated to the Judicial Branch; $4,875,379 to the Legislative Branch; and $23,387,085 to the Executive Branch.
The First Senatorial District of Rota, was appropriated $4,849,727; the Second Senatorial District of Tinian and Aguigan, $4,282,501; and the Third Senatorial District of Saipan and Northern Islands Mayors and Saipan Municipal Council, $1,771,864.
Boards and commissions were appropriated $838,317, independent programs, $10,051,039, and other programs, $28,234,260.
However, it is the salary caps in Section 604 of the bill that attracted the most attention, not just from the appointed officials that are bound to be affected but members of the community who support them.
Section 604 of the bill provides that salaries for some appointed officials are to revert back to the salaries or its equivalent, as prescribed in Public Law 7-31, less 20% if applicable, based on the governor’s revised allocation for fiscal year 2021.
Finance Secretary David Atalig, speaking before the House members, referred to the provision as a “curse” and a “devaluing of service.”
“What diligent, honest, hardworking, educated people will endure this devaluing of service? What standard are we placing in the administration of the Commonwealth laws and regulations?” he said. “Public service should not be a curse. We should be proud to serve, and expected to perform miracles, shouldering the lives and success of hundreds, if not thousands of our people, and to not be told we have no value by this Legislature.”
Press secretary Kevin Bautista also spoke before lawmakers and raised how the provision will discourage young professionals from getting into positions of leadership in the Commonwealth.
Proposals on an across-the-board salary cut, and unpaid holidays were also raised, and lawmakers were half and half, with some arguing that the cuts are a major cut, which is unfair, specifically targeting specific individuals, while others said the cuts are essential, given the fiscal situation of the CNMI government.