The provision that most bothered Rep. Joseph Lee Pan Guerrero (R-Saipan) about the newly-enacted budget for fiscal year 2021 was the one that would require the Executive Branch to pay for the utilities of Rota and Tinian in fiscal year 2021.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres may have already line-item vetoed that provision but, speaking at the House of Representatives’ emergency session last Sept. 30, 2020, Guerrero disclosed that the utilities issue was the biggest reason why he did not sign the “final product” or the report of the conference committee that had been working to resolve disagreements between the Senate and the House on the budget bill. Guerrero was a member of the House team in the committee.
He questioned why the Executive Branch is being made to pay for the utilities of Rota and Tinian in fiscal year 2021 when the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. on Saipan can get disconnected for failing to pay its power bills with the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. While CHCC is struggling to pay its power, the Executive Branch will pay for the power of Rota and Tinian, Guerrero said. “Is that proper? Ask each of you that question. Because I don’t feel comfortable,” he said, adding that he wasn’t comfortable putting his signature on something that he does not support. “So I’m hoping, praying that our good governor would line-item veto [that section] because I do not support this. That’s why I did not sign the committee report.”
House floor leader Rep. John Paul Sablan (R-Saipan) said the bill would require the Executive Branch to cover about $586,000 in total for Rota and Tinian’s utilities.
Another concern that Guerrero had was how the Senate came about with all the earmarks that were suspended, one of which is for the Marianas Visitors Authority. He said the MVA was projected to have an earmarkable $4.7 million. When he asked the Legislature’s fiscal analyst, Dave Demapan, about this, he was told that this is actually a conservative projection, according to the Finance secretary.
“I don’t understand. How do you project conservatively when there are no flights?” Guerrero asked.
When the House of Representatives rejected the Senate’s version of the budget bill last Sunday, it referred the bill to a conference committee. The House and the Senate then appointed the members of the committee. The committee conferees met jointly beginning Tuesday and continued for two consecutive days.
At each meeting, the conferees deliberated and focused their effort on major differences on the Senate’s and the House’s versions of the bill.