‘Largest budget in NMI history’

$212.6 in budgetary resources

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres signs the fiscal year 2018 budget while Lt. Gov. Victor B. Hocog documents the scene through his handheld device and House Speaker Rafael Demapan (R-Saipan) looks on. (Erwin Encinares)

With over $212.6 million in identified resources, last Tuesday’s newly enacted spending plan for the CNMI government was the largest budget ever in the history of the CNMI, according to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres.

Minus funds set aside for constitutional and statutory mandates, the CNMI Legislature had over $145.2 million that was available for appropriation.

In signing the fiscal year 2018 budget bill last Tuesday, Torres said the measure also accomplishes several things.

For one, it allocated a total of $56 million to retirees, $45 million of which is directed to the Settlement Fund for the minimum annual payment of benefits as per a previous settlement agreement between the CNMI government and the Settlement Fund.

A provision that would have resulted in an indirect cut the Marianas Visitors Authority’s budget was vetoed.

The Senate had proposed getting $500,000 from the MVA budget to procure batwing mower tractors, one each for Rota and Tinian, but Torres disapproved the provision. He said the tractors would be procured using funds from other resources.

Despite this, MVA is still directed to purchase a fire pumper truck for the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, worth $450,000, and pay $69,435 to the Public School System’s Cooperative Education Program to promote its tourism-related programs.

The Judiciary saw an increase of 11.1 percent in its budget compared to fiscal year 2017. In fiscal year 2018, the Judiciary will get $6.6 million; it received over $5.9 million in the previous fiscal year.

The Department of Public Safety, the Department of Corrections, and DFEMS each received substantial bumps in their budgets compared to last year.

DPS will get over $6.4 million in funding for fiscal year 2018, a 7.8-percent increase compared to its previous fiscal year budget of roughly $6 million.

DOC will get over $5.2 million in fiscal year 2018, a 15-percent increase over its previous budget of roughly $4.5 million.

DFEMS will receive over $4 million in fiscal year 2018, a 2.3-percent increase compared to its previous budget of roughly $3.9 million. Though it will get the smallest increase of the three, DFEMS would also be getting a new fire pumper truck worth $450,000 from MVA.

One of the more noteworthy accomplishments of the new budget is the redirection of where the CW fees collected from every renewed CW visa would go.

CW fees fund workforce educational programs in the CNMI, which includes programs offered by the Latte Training Academy, the Northern Marianas Technical Institute, the Northern Marianas College, and more. The CNMI Scholarship Office would now be administering the CW fees instead of the Department of Labor.

“By redirecting the administration of CW fees through the CNMI Scholarship Office, it will allow the administration to not only achieve greater transparency with the disbursement of the funds, but would also allow the scholarship office to develop a plan that accurately indicates the Commonwealth’s goals of achieving a benchmark of educated and skilled workers,” said press secretary Kevin Bautista in a statement, adding that the Legislature previously questioned the disbursement of funds.

The budget also addressed payments of government’s liabilities, including judgments and settlement agreements amounting to $1 million.

“This underscores the administration’s commitment to addressing the government’s longstanding obligations in a fiscally sustainable matter,” added Bautista in the statement.

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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