When we looked at what the House budget provided and compared it to the proposed Senate version being considered by their Fiscal Affairs Committee, we expected to see some changes in their senate draft, their SD1. We understand that Rota and Tinian have municipalities to run and the House honestly did its best to adequately fund them. But the numbers we saw in their proposed SD1 were unreasonable.
In the proposed Senate version, there was a significant increase of 3.1 million for Tinian and Rota, 1.8 million and 1.3 million, respectively. Saipan was increased too—but instead of a similar significant increase, the Third Senatorial District received an increase of $247,000. So, when you compare what the House passed to what the Senate is considering, that’s a ratio of 12 to 1 in terms of what the First and Second Districts were allotted compared to the Third Senatorial District. Based on this information, we do not feel confident that we can approve the Senate version of the budget if this issue remains unresolved.
Until we see what was actually passed last Saturday, I can’t comment on the specifics of the Senate version but I can tell you about the House version that we passed back on Aug. 5.
Our House version took the 82 million that the governor identified as the net total available for appropriation and we stayed within that figure. That’s a balanced budget.
We made some tough decisions and we wish we could have given more in certain areas, but in the end, our balanced budget accounted for the government’s operations and its debts. We did this while respecting about 13 million in earmarks that the governor set aside for Group Health Life Insurance, Solid Waste, Marianas Visitors Authority, and Marianas Public Land Trust. These earmarks were not included in the governor’s proposed figure of $82,656,213 for our net expenditure budget for fiscal year 2021.
By identifying $82 million, the governor set our cap for all intents and purposes. By removing these earmarks in their Senate version of the annual budget, the Senate reduced the 13 million by 25%, which means we have 3.25 million less to pay for these legitimate obligations. By appropriating the entire 144 million gross amount that was provided by the governor that includes the earmarks, the Senate appears to be exceeding the working cap and underfunding the original earmarks.
We feel bad that the possibility of a government shutdown exists, if we do not see eye to eye on the Senate version but we cannot pass an unbalanced budget or use funds we really do not have.
But please trust that we will work hard and burn the midnight oil if need be, to have a budget that satisfies both houses on the governor’s desk for his consideration as soon as possible. We may not agree with the current budget proposal but we will work together to avert a shutdown.
Ivan Blanco (Special to the Saipan Tribune)
Rep. Ivan Blanco is chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee.