The Senate has begun preparations to hold budget hearings.
In a meeting yesterday, Senate vice president Sen. Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian) asked Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee member how they want to approach the budget process for fiscal year 2021.
Hofschneider, who also chairs the committee, acknowledged the challenges this year, with the economy and the “severe reduction” in projection, but that those just give them more opportunity to look at other elements within the revenue stream.
“The governor had requested for us to consider suspending some of the earmarks, which is substantial, to the tune of approximately $12 million, and that’s the revised figure that was submitted [on] July 1—$12 million more than what was submitted than earlier in April,” he said. “Those are the things that are very crucial to us during this budget deliberation. Of course, there are significant numbers of our people that were furloughed and terminated. So those are the things that we need to carefully look through and try to work, to come up with a reliable product.
“We’re hoping to see what the House passed also, so that we can begin the process of having a budget product before the end of the fiscal year,” he added.
Hofschneider also said that the Senate and the House don’t usually have the same product at the end of their respective budget reviews.
The Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee will be reserving the month of August for meetings with agencies, to facilitate and help the lawmakers with their analysis on the appropriations for the agencies for the next fiscal year.
At the beginning of the meeting, Senate fiscal analyst Dave Demapan told the senators that Gov. Ralph DLG Torres did not touch the revenue base that was estimated in the original budget of approximately $144 million. Instead, he made changes on the earmarked accounts, most of which are suspended from his original submission, amounting to about $11.28 million.
In addition, Demapan said that the amount that is going to be appropriated in the general fund increased by about $12 million, from $70.6 million to $82.6 million.
The lawmakers raised several initial concerns on the proposed budget, particularly on the revolving fund, the hotel occupancy tax, comingling of funds, and the suspension of earmarked funds, including payments made by the CNMI’s casino licensee, Imperial Pacific International.