The Senate is expected to act on the CNMI’s fiscal year 2019 budget when it returns to session on Thursday, Sept. 6.
The budget bill, House Bill 20-173, introduced by House Ways and Means Committee chair Rep. Angel A. Demapan (R-Saipan), passed the House last month and has been with the Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee headed by Sen. Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) for almost two months now.
Senate President Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan) has asked Hofschneider’s committee to speed up its review of the bill so they would have enough time to discuss it on Thursday, 24 days before fiscal year 2018 ends.
“I hope that the Fiscal Affairs Committee would finalize all the necessary provisions or revisions of the 2019 budget so we can pass it in our next session. Hopefully in the afternoon [before 1pm session starts], so we can deliberate and hopefully pass it,” said Palacios in last week’s session.
Hofschneider said they would present some of the highlights of what their committee had worked on, as they had to review the bill carefully before the final product that they would introduce in the Thursday session.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres submitted to the Legislature last April a proposed a budget of $258.14 million, which is higher by 14.99 percent from the previous fiscal year budget of $236.77 million.
The fiscal year 2019 budget proposal allocates $42.7 million for the CNMI Public School System—which is higher than the 25 percent constitutionally mandated funding for PSS—while $5.5 million is allotted to the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. and includes funding for indigent and prisoners care.
Removing the funding for the salary increases of Cabinet members was the significant change to H.B. 20-173.
The $1.9 million salary increases for legislators is another controversial provision of the budget bill; last week the CNMI Supreme Court ruled it is unconstitutional. The high court ruling would mean the money would go to CHCC.
The fiscal year 2019 budget needs to be enacted before Oct. 1, the start of fiscal year 2019; otherwise, a partial government shutdown would take place.