Democrats say they support $1,000 bonus, but don’t trust Torres with 100% reprogramming authority
The House of Representatives unanimously voted yesterday to reject the Senate’s version of a bill that gives a $1,000 bonus for government retirees after objecting to the Senate’s insertion of language that gives Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ 100% reprogramming authority over the budget.
All 20 representatives agreed to the creation of a conference committee that will hammer out with the Senate a mutually acceptable bill for the retirees’ bonuses.
House Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan) appointed Ways and Means chair Rep. Donald M. Manglona (Ind-Rota), vice speaker Blas Jonathan Attao (R-Saipan), and Rep. Corina L. Magofna (D-Saipan) to the conference committee. Senate president Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) is expected to soon name the Senate’s representatives on the committee.
During discussions, Democrat representatives opposed language in the Senate version that would give Torres’ broad reprogramming powers over the budget. Rep. Sheila J. Babauta (D-Saipan) said the Senate’s version of the bonus bill includes changes that they can only accept or reject.
Babauta said the main changes are increasing the bonus from $500 to $1,000 and granting Torres 100% reprogramming authority.
She said the governor is still within his 25% reprogramming authority and does not need 100%, as stated by Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig during one of the House Ways and Means Committee meetings.
Babauta pointed out that the House had impeached Torres for reckless and irresponsible government spending, among other things. “And now we want to give him 100% reprogramming authority? I don’t believe that’s appropriate and I don’t support that,” she said.
Babauta said they are waiting for the governor’s impeachment trial in the Senate and so granting him 100% reprogramming authority is not something that she supports.
Rep. Edwin K. Propst (D-Saipan) claimed that every fiscal year under Torres’ reign has ended in deficit spending. He said the total deficit under Torres’ six years in charge of running the government totals $314,611,966.
He also enumerated alleged instances of corruption surrounding sole-source contracts, saying majority of these contracts awarded to Torres’ beneficiaries all pay to play.
“They reciprocate,” he said.
Despite all these, Propst said, the Senate wants the House to give Torres 100% reprogramming authority in order to give the retirees $1,000 bonus. Propst said he rejects this Senate’s version but supports the $1,000 bonus for the retirees.
He said the House cannot reward Torres by giving him 100% reprogramming authority.
Rep. Christina Marie E. Sablan (D-Saipan) said the retirees’ bonus is not the problem, but Torres who wants 100% reprogramming authority over the budget.
Sablan accused Torres of “once again using and manipulating retirees’ to serve his own political end.”
“Imagine that. This governor wants unlimited power over the public purse. After running deficits for six straight years. After we just impeached him for misspending public funds and abusing public trust,” she said. “The sad truth, Mr. Speaker and colleagues, is that this governor cannot be trusted with public funds.”
She said retirees are not political pawns and should never be used as political pawns.
Rep. Corina L. Magofna (D-Saipan) said the retirees should know that she and her colleagues support the $1,000 bonus. “Please know that we understand your frustrations and financial hardships as this has already taken about a couple of months,” Magofna said.
She asked the retirees to allow them do their part responsibly for the betterment of the government.
Last Jan. 12, the House unanimously passed the bipartisan legislation, House Bill 22-91, HD1, that proposes to amend the Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year 2022 to establish a business unit and allocate $1.3 million in local funds to pay the $500 bonus for each government retiree.
Last Feb. 3, the Senate passed their version of the bill, with amendments offered by Senate President Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) to reflect, among other things, the bonus increase to $1,000.
Last Dec. 14, Torres requested the Legislature to allow reprogramming of funds for the sole purpose of funding the retirees’ $500 bonuses. The following day, the Senate adopted Senate Joint Resolution 22-05, which approved Torres’ request.
The House did not act on the Senate’s resolution, but instead passed the bipartisan legislation, House Bill 22-91, HD1.