The Senate has formally adopted Gov. Eloy S. Inos’ proposed $145-million figure for general appropriations.
In an emergency session last Friday, senators unanimously adopted the House of Representatives’ concurrent resolution to set the revenue and resources amount for fiscal year 2016.
The House and Senate are expected to meet today to continue budget conference talks to resolve differences over their varying ways of divvying up of budget.
Pursuant to law, the Senate and House usually formally agree to a budget figure before drafting their versions of the budget. But the Senate adoption of a budget last Friday came after this process.
“Typically that’s the order of the way we should have done it,” said. Sen. Jude Hofschneider, (R-Tinian), Senate fiscal committee chairman and Senate chairman for the conference committee. “We were supposed to have an audience with the Secretary of Finance, but due to the two concurrent situations with the Internet [network outage and Typhoon Soudelor]…we kind of passed that phase. But nevertheless, we take full responsibility and acknowledge it and pass it.”
“It is very important to recognize that it is $145 million general appropriations,” he said.
Asked if last Friday’s vote meant a change in their position, Hofschneider said, “Absolutely not.”
The legislators must agree on a $154-million budget before the end of the month to avoid a government shutdown.
The main point of contention appears to be between the House and Senate’s interpretation of the law that would either allow or disallow the Legislature to use money not set as “subject to appropriations.”
In the Senate budget, senators invoke a “notwithstanding clause” to direct the Marianas Visitors Authority to transfer about $2.5 million in earmarked funds to the local hospital, the Commonwealth Health Center, and Divisions of Customs.
The House asserts that the use of earmarked funds conflicts with the NMI Constitution
The Public School System has also expressed its disdain for what they see as an overreach of legislative authority within the Senate budget bill, which PSS believes would “decentralize” spending authority from the Education Commissioner and give this to school principals.