Senator on pay hike: We are at status quo
After three weeks of meetings, the Senate passed the budget for next fiscal year with multiple amendments last Friday, including re-allocating the funding set aside for salary hikes.
Sen. Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian), who chairs the Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee, confirmed with Saipan Tribune that the salary hikes did not push through with their version of the fiscal year 2018 budget.
“We are basically at status quo,” said Hofschneider. “We elected to use [the money set aside for the pay hike] to distribute among the instrumentalities and senatorial districts of other government agencies.”
Hofschneider said the Senate chose last week to re-appropriate the funds due to the ongoing litigation against Finance Secretary Larissa Larson, her voluntary decision not to implement the pay hike, and the submission of certified questions to the Supreme Court on the matter.
According to Hofschneider, about $1.3 million was allocated to the pay hike.
Senate changes included the insertion of a provision that gives Department of Public Works’ “solid waste employees” of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota hazardous pay from the Solid Waste Revolving Fund.
Hofschneider said hazardous pay is equal to 25 percent of each employee’s base salary.
“These employees are exposed to these environments and at the same time there is a source of funding for it,” said Hofschneider, adding that he remains hopeful that the House of Representatives will support the amendments.
The Senate also inserted a provision that eliminates new and vacant positions not filled before March 31, 2018. Only the Public School System and the Northern Marianas College are exempted from this provision.
According to House Bill 20-104 HD2, SD3, funds allotted for the eliminated number of positions for 2018 would be deposited in a subaccount and reserved for deficit reduction, provided that the first $250,000 goes to the Rota Mayor’s Office for the positions funded through Rota local funds for fiscal year 2017. Funds for positions not filled under this provision shall not be reprogrammed.
The Senate increased the number of positions for the entire Executive Branch from 50 to 100. Thirty positions are assigned to the Saipan Department of Public Safety and 10 each to Tinian and Rota DPS.
Senate changes also included the approval of the Marianas Visitors Authority budget of over $16 million, with modifications.
From the MVA budget, $450,000 was appropriated for the purchase of a new fire truck for the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, up to $250,000 to the purchase of four additional Automated Passport Control units, up to $100,000 to the funding of a CNMI Cultural Center feasibility study, up to $200,000 to the funding of the Chamorro and Carolinian cultures celebration activities throughout September 2018, $250,000 each to the Rota and Tinian mayor’s offices to fund for tractors with batwing mower attachments, and $69,435 for the Public School System’s Cooperative Education Program for the promotion of its tourism-related programs.
The House is expected to accept or make further amendments in today’s emergency session on Capital Hill in the House chamber at 1:30pm. However, if the House insists on certain provisions, it would plunge both chambers into a conference committee.
Once both chambers of the Legislature agree on the budget bill, the bill heads to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ office for review. According to a constitutional mandate, a 20-day grace period is assigned to the governor for the review of the budget bill.
Failure to enact a budget into law before the end of fiscal year 2017 on Oct. 1, 2017, would cause a government shutdown.