CHCC, PSS get lion’s share
Pegged at a record-busting $258,139,107, the Commonwealth government enacted yesterday what is being touted as the largest budget in the history of the Commonwealth
House Bill 20-173, Senate Substitute 1, Conference Committee Substitute 1 goes into the books as Public Law 20-67, or the CNMI Appropriations and Budget Authority Act of 2019, after Gov. Ralph DLG Torres signed the bill into law, with a comfortable margin of three days before the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.
The CNMI government identified total budgetary resources of $258,139,107 for fiscal year 2019, which is almost $11.2 million higher than the $247 million budget for fiscal year 1997 at the height of the Commonwealth’s twin economic sources—the garment and tourism industries.
The fiscal year 2019 budget, including earmarks, increased by $21.4 million from the last fiscal year of $236.77 million.
A total of $171,589,677 in revenues and resources is now ready for appropriation to fund the CNMI government’s operations, up by almost $26.4 million from the $145.2 million in the previous fiscal year.
P.L. 20-66 has allocated $44 million for the retirees’ settlement covering the 75 percent that’s mandated by the CNMI Settlement Fund or for the minimum annual payment of the benefits of the settlement class members. Another $11.8 million is appropriated for the additional 25 percent for all retirees, completing 100 percent of their pension.
The CNMI Settlement Fund is also expected to receive an additional $11,534,522 from the supplemental budget bill (H.B. 20-187, House Draft 2) that the Senate passed yesterday.
Torres, after signing the bill in front of some members of the Legislature and students that participated in the Youth Takeover Day, said that signing the budget bill early means there won’t be any government shutdown.
“The important thing is making sure that the government would continue to operate” he said.
Education will be getting a total of $51 million, with the CNMI State Public School System allocated $43.2 million, which is 29.8 percent of the budgetary resources available for appropriation.
The Northern Marianas College will receive $5.4 million, while $2.4 million is reserved for the CNMI Scholarship Office.
PSS and NMC are also expected to receive a total of $7.2 million from H.B. 20-187 that is now headed to Torres for signing.
“On top of what the budget has given, we are giving more to accommodate those who are definitely a priority,” Torres said. “We continue to make sure that our youth, manhoben, that we give you a better government.”
The local government subsidy to the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. also increased by $3.5 million, with the Medical Referral funding up by $594,887. CHCC has an almost $74 million funding from P.L. 20-67.
Rep. Angel A. Demapan (R-Saipan), the House Ways and Means Committee chair, said the budget is a reflection of how far the Commonwealth has come. “It is a reflection of the progress of our economy but, most of all, it is a reflection—of the conference committee product—of your legislators and our willingness to cooperate and collaborate for the good of the Commonwealth.”
“The governor had 20 days to review it but was only given 10 days. We thank you, governor, for your swift action. For the people of the Commonwealth, there will be no shutdown.”
Sen. Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian), Demapan’s counterpart and the Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee chairman, said the budget process makes the Legislature aware of what the government needs to prioritize.
“We’re proud to say that as a result of this compromise legislation, the highest budget enacted, we took care of PSS—$47 million from the general appropriation and outside sources. Took care of CHCC—almost $10 million also from the general appropriations and outside sources, and include $2 million for uncompensated care.”
House Speaker Rafael S. Demapan (R-Saipan) said the budget shows the continued progress of the CNMI. “I also understand that there are some entities that are underfunded, but rest assured that the Legislature would continue to find other funding sources to address those needs. The appropriation funding is forthcoming.”
Senate President Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan) added the budget process have been difficult sometimes. “It is because of disagreements of the 29 members of the Legislature but, at the end of the day…we…make sure we enact a bill to operate the government. Every year, it is a compromise.”
“Compromise is something that not everybody is happy with…but we are obligated to pass a budget. Otherwise we shut down the government. I know some departments may feel they are shortchanged and some feel very happy.”