House Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan) wants deliberations on next fiscal year budget to begin as soon as possible, but his fellow lawmakers have determined that issues relating to the NMI Settlement Fund obligations need to be clarified with the administration first.
In an interview with reporters Wednesday, Villagomez said he actually planned to schedule the passage of the concurrent resolution last Friday but one of the things he wants to find out is if the American Rescue Plan Act funding for the CNMI will also take care of the CNMI’s obligations and debts.
“And we wanted to get clarity in terms of the Settlement Fund,” said Villagomez, adding that one of the limits regarding the ARPA is that the CNMI cannot pay pensions.
“But then I guess there is an argument that… it is not a pension anymore. You know, it’s a Settlement Fund. But it’s still…taking care of the retirees. So it still kind of has the pension fund. So we’re still looking on clarity for that,” adding that House Ways and Means Committee chair Rep. Donald M. Manglona (Ind-Rota) is working on the matter. Villagomez said Manglona is working with Finance Secretary David DLG. Atalig to get clarity.
The recently enacted ARPA allocates an estimated $515 million in federal dollars to the CNMI. It is intended to help government operations and offset costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Villagomez believes that the administration of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and the Department of Finance will have to revise their budget request because of those possible extra few million dollars that would be freed up once the CNMI gets its share of the ARPA funding. Those extra millions could be spread out or whatever the administration plans to use that for, he added.
He said he is just waiting on Manglona on what he’s doing to get that clarified because they have to pass the concurrent resolution, which sets the budget’s ceiling, before passing the actual budget.
“Absent that, they could still start meeting with agencies or the Ways and Means Committee can start their…budget hearings. But you want to set that concurrent resolution so that for sure you’re guided by that ceiling and you don’t want to over-promise the agency or the instrumentality …knowing that it might exceed the cap. That’s one thing you don’t want to do,” the speaker said.
The concurrent resolution sets Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ ceiling on the budget for fiscal year 2022.
Villagomez said the budget process could still start, but they want to get that concurrent resolution passed as soon as possible.
He said he expect the Ways and Means Committee to work on the technicalities.