Fearing a bottleneck of bills at the CNMI Senate, Rep. Tina Sablan (Ind-Saipan) is hoping that the upper chamber will still be able to avert any possible shutdown as this could scuttle efforts to pass a fiscal year 2020 budget for the CNMI government on time.
Sablan said that bills pending for action by the Senate would pile up at the upper chamber if it would close down before the 2019 fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.
Senate President Victor B. Hocog (R-Rota) told the Executive branch last month that the Senate would close down from August to September, due to the senators’ reduced allotments.
The new fiscal year, 2020, begins on Oct. 1.
“We’re hoping the Senate won’t shut down. The senators will continue to get paid since their salaries are constitutionally protected. We have a job to do. We can’t function as a body if the Senate shuts down,” said Sablan. “I hope that it doesn’t come to a shutdown. We can’t pass any legislation and we can’t pass the budget by ourselves. We need the Senate to remain open for business.”
Sablan added it will be a huge problem for the Legislature and the government as a whole if action on the CNMI budget is stalled. “The House hopes to pass a budget bill by the end of the month, then transmit it to the Senate. The Senate then will have the month of July to work on it.”
The House will be having a session on Thursday, June 27, at 2:45pm in order for House Ways and Means Committee chair Rep. Ivan A. Blanco (R-Saipan) to introduce the budget measure, House Bill 21-64.
The House committee of the whole is expected to pass the budget and have it transmitted to the Senate as soon as possible.
In his letter to Torres, Hocog said the Senate’s decision to shut down operations in August and September was based on an analysis provided by fiscal analyst David S. Demapan showing their June allotment, the operational funds of the Senate, would totally depleted then.
“The analysis reveals that, from April to September, the members’ monthly allotment would have been $2,950 and, by the end of the fiscal year, each member would have only received $62,700 instead of the $90,000, a 30.33 percent cut,” Hocog said in his letter to Torres.
Hocog added that senators will have no choice but to make drastic cuts. “[Senators] would make unbearable decisions such as to release most of their staff, return all leased vehicles, and arrange payment plans on their outstanding invoices and services.
He recommended that the May allotment of $2,752 be restored to all Senate members. “And make the allotment for June and July be at $7,500.”
As for the months of August and September, Hocog recommends zeroing out all allotments since no Senate office will be in operation.