The Legislature still has over three weeks left to settle the certified question issue that the CNMI State Board of Education is hoping to clarify for its funding sources. The board is seeking clarification on what are general revenues and the 25 percent it is entitled to as stated in the CNMI Constitution.
The board, in its meeting last month, decided to give the government—administration of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and the Legislature—until the end of the month to answer it’s certified question or they would be forced to file a lawsuit against them and let the courts, once and for all, settle the issue.
But the House Ways & Means committee, which pens the local budget and allocates money to the government, is still waiting for the identification of other funding sources before it could appropriate money.
Committee chair Rep. Angel A. Demapan (R-Saipan) said that although he and House Speaker Ralph S. Demapan (R-Saipan) have yet to discuss the issue, the Legislature is more than willing to settle it before the end of the month.
“It was [the Public School System] and the speaker that had been discussing it. I haven’t had the chance to ask the speaker about it and discuss it with PSS. But [right now] we’re waiting for the identification of additional funds and I believe the governor is working on something,” said Angel Demapan.
“The same process is followed where the governor and the Finance secretary will identify the funds as available for appropriation and they send that identification to the Legislature. That’s when we at the [Ways & Means] committee, put together an appropriation bill. At this point, we can’t appropriate money that hasn’t been identified as available.”
Education a priority
The Torres administration, in a statement sent to the Saipan Tribune, said they continue to support education as evident on the budget proposal they had sent to the Legislature. “While we respect the legislative process in deliberating the budget, this administration will continue to join the BOE and PSS administrators in prioritizing education for our students,” said the statement.
“This year, governor Torres’ proposal saw a $6.2-million increase in PSS’ local commitment—about $42.8 million, which is more than 25 percent of the government’s budgetary resources available for appropriation.”
The administration has identified gross budgetary resources of $258,137,107 for fiscal year 2019 with 91 percent of it coming from the business gross revenue tax, income tax, excise tax, hotel occupancy tax, bar tax, and beautification tax. The BGRT is 34 percent of that budgetary resources or $87,675,000
The net budget resources ready for appropriation is $167,039,225 less the adjustment for debt service appropriations, earmarked funds, and other legal obligations. PSS is allotted a budget of $42,775,117 or 29 percent from the allocated budget between the branches of government and other programs.
The amount, however, does not include other future supplemental appropriations within FY 2018.
“Historically, in past supplemental appropriations, which are subject to the amount of BGRT to our government coffers, PSS has received as much as $10 million. The administration will continue to make education a critical budgetary priority for the benefit of our students and teachers,” the administration said in the statement.
Going back to govt
BOE board member Herman T. Guerrero, who is also a former chair, said the money appropriated for PSS that they did not spend would go back to the government. “The [CNMI] Constitution said it would revert back to the general funds for re-appropriation.”
“Technically, money we don’t use goes back to the government, it doesn’t continue to the next fiscal year. It’s unusual because you don’t find that in any other office that was given an earmark.”
He added that the government must finally address the issue since it has been going on for years. “And every time we go there [Capital Hill], we go through the same hassles. Even lawyers and the Attorney General have different interpretations.”
“It needs to be clarified, it’s not a question of right and wrong, we need to have a clear mind on what we are really entitled. Answer the question: what is the general revenue and what’s earmark?”
BOE legal counsel Tiberius Mocanu, in last month’s meeting, said the lawsuit is complete and they are ready to file. “What’s left is when to file. The board has already decided that the lawsuit be prepared.”
“And if we can’t settle the certified questions then the lawsuit will be filed. These have been resolved; the filing date is the only question,” added Mocanu.
MD: Legislature still waits identification of funding sources.
KW: Legislature, Angel Demapan, Ralph Demapan, budget, funds, PSS, education.