Senate OKs resolution for gov’t retirees’ $1K bonuses
After listening to the explanations of Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig and Senate legal counsel Antonette Villagomez, and the concerns raised by Tinian and Aguiguan Mayor Edwin Aldan, the full Senate unanimously adopted yesterday Senate Joint Resolution 22-09 approving Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ request to create a new program and business unit for the government retirees’ $1,000 bonuses.
During a Senate session at the Tinian Superior Courthouse, all nine senators voted “yes” for the adoption of the resolution. Sens. Paul A. Manglona (Ind-Tinian), Edith E. DeLeon Guerrero (D-Saipan), and Teresita A. Santos (Ind-Rota) voted “yes” with reservations.
Senate Joint Resolution 22-09, which was pre-filed Monday by Senate President Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) and five other Republican senators, also approves Torres’ request to reprogram $2.6 million from within the Executive Branch for the payment of the retirees’ bonuses.
“Because the MVA [Marianas Visitors Authority] fund is on the hook, I will not frustrate MVA [under my watch],” said an emotional Hofschneider before instructing the clerk to call the roll for the votes. The president delivered his statements mostly in the vernacular.
The joint resolution does not include any language giving the governor 100% reprogramming authority, which was the main issue why the House Democrat representatives opposed the previous Senate version of the bill for retirees’ bonuses.
The joint resolution states that the Finance secretary shall report all reprogramming pursuant to this resolution in writing to the chairman of the Senate Committee on Fiscal Affairs and the House Committee on Ways and Means within 30 days after the reprogramming of funds.
Before the voting, senators expressed their opinions about the joint resolution.
Sen. Victor B. Hocog (R-Rota) pointed out that the House conferees had proposed to remove $850,000 from the Marianas Visitors Authority’s $3.1 million budget in fiscal year 2022, yet there was no discussion with the MVA managing director or its board of directors whether that would cripple MVA’s activities and operations.
He said that of MVA’s $3.1 million budget, $1.1 million is funded by the American Rescue Plan Act and that MVA has already encumbered $771,000 for personnel and all other costs. The senator said MVA will be left with $560,000 for “all others” by the remaining of the fiscal year and not excluding the personnel costs.
“So if we are strengthening our revitalization of tourism, why are we killing the…very agency that provides us the opportunity for economic growth and enhancement?” Hocog asked.
“All I see here is a political posturing,” he added.
Hocog said it is a political issue and that he is sad that some senators are embracing the House’s action and not their own counterparts.
“What the hell is going on with these leaders and Senate members? I thought that we’re in this together so that we can work with our counterparts and not try to burden your members in the Senate by trying to play your political posturing,” Hocog said.
He said that, by giving MVA just $560,000 for the rest of the fiscal year, what do the municipalities expect to do in promoting their annual activities and the maintenance of tourist sites?
“Let’s stop this issue as to who’s is going to get the credit. It’s not about credit here. It’s about doing the right thing, the right way,” Hocog said.
He said if this had been done in the past—as Senate legal counsel Antonette Villagomez had fully explained—why can’t they do it today?
Sen. Francisco Q. Cruz (R-Tinian) said Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig already made it very clear that this $2.6 million does not require new appropriation.
“Why are we trying to jeopardize the municipalities’ funding under MVA?” Cruz said.
Cruz said Atalig, who is monitoring the funding, is telling them that this does not require new appropriation to address the $2.6 million. He said all they have to do is approve the request of the administration for such funding and the retirees will receive their bonuses.
“I don’t want to get any credit. I don’t need credit as long as the retirees receive their bonuses,” Cruz said.
Manglona said they can talk of legal opinion after legal opinion, but the only thing that will matter is both Senate and House counsels can agree on. Manglona said this discussion should be taking place among the three Senate and House conferees so they can agree on a compromise.
“I don’t care if it’s a resolution or not, or a bill or not. But I believe that the House was very reasonable in their opinion,” he said.