Lawmakers put $4.2 million on negotiating table
The lawmakers leading negotiations for a fiscal year 2016 budget had some homework over the weekend, as they agreed to aim for a compromise draft of a budget bill by tomorrow, Tuesday.
Senators and House representatives on the budget conference committee will resume talks this morning against a deadline that is some 10 days away. The lawmakers must agree on a budget in time for Gov. Eloy S. Inos’ signature to avoid a partial government shutdown.
“The conferees, chairman [Sen. Jude Hofschneider, Senate budget chair] and myself are giving ourselves basically through the weekend and up to Tuesday to work on an agreement,” said Rep. Antonio Sablan (Ind-Saipan), conference chairman and House Ways and Means Committee chair, in an interview in his office on Friday.
Sablan said they are looking at a compromise on the number of activities that are included in the Senate’s version of the budget. The House believes they can move forward on talks if both sides agree that not all of the Senate substitute provisions can make it to the final draft of the budget bill.
These Senate provisions include salary adjustments, new full-time positions, funding for a “drug” court, and increased municipal allotments. The provisions are to the tune of some $4.2 million.
House lawmakers say that since day one of the budget talks they have agreed in principle to increase the salaries of law enforcement personnel. The Senate proposes 5 percent pay raises for law enforcers.
“We are not opposing the salary increases,” Sablan said. “The fact is, everyone knows how long these people have gone on without any salary increases.”
“But when looking at the overall picture and you have like $4.2 million—that’s quite significant. So we’ve broken it up to the main categories of activities, from the 5-percent salary adjustments, the new [full-time equivalent positions], and the all others,” Sablan said.
The $4.2 million average on the negotiating table is broken down, among others, mainly into:
$556,000 for the 5-percent pay raises for law enforcers;
$1,567,282 for new full-time positions;
$1,689,809 for “all others,” which include provisions for a drug court and funding for the Saipan Mayor’s Office;
$413,631 for other salary adjustments. This includes pay raises for the resident directors of Rota and Tinian.
“…Our proposal is to try to eliminate the $2.5 million for the new positions,” Sablan told reporters on Friday. But he added that if they did have available funding they would look at prioritizing a few positions, about five or 10, for the Department of Public Safety, depending on the funding left.
Last week, the Senate and House agreed in principle to direct the Marianas Visitors Authority through program modifications to move money to other agencies to make up for the shortfall left after money was first moved around from the local hospital and public streetlights to fund the Senate provisions.
But on Friday, Sablan said, by looking at the numbers on the table and eliminating about $3 million, they would have a “significant lower number” to take out of MVA.
“The little details, the details of the activities, we’ll need to decide that on Monday, or Tuesday, but I think overall… This budget cannot be burdened by the $4.2. [million]” impact of the Senate activities, Sablan said.