Swift action seen in budget’s revision
Personally, Senate President Edith E. DeLeon Guerrero (D-Saipan) does not anticipate much debate on Gov. Arnold I. Palacios’ request to revise the CNMI Fiscal Year 2023 budget. House of Representatives Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan) assured that the House stands ready to work on the process.
Speaking at a news briefing called by Palacios in the governor’s conference room Wednesday afternoon, both DeLeon Guerrero and Villagomez expressed belief that the governor’s request will be acted on expeditiously.
Palacios transmitted Wednesday morning to the Legislature his request to revise the fiscal year 2023 CNMI budget to ensure the continuity of essential government functions, programs, and services. The revision estimates total net gross revenue and resources at $116.19 million.
DeLeon Guerrero, who was present in the news briefing, said the fiscal year 2023 budget submission, which is a modified budget, has to be reviewed by the Legislature.
She noted that the last passage of the fiscal year 2023 budget came in at a net revenue of $109.78 million. Today, with the increase of 11% in local revenue collections, or about $11.8 million, based on the collections posted in the first two quarters of the current fiscal year, the additional funding that has been collected by Revenue and Tax shows that there has to be some modifications.
“However, we are not yet at that level of recovery,” DeLeon Guerrero said.
She said that, with Palacios’ statement that the American Rescue Plan Act money has already been depleted, and that Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Community Disaster Loan Funds money is no longer there to guarantee the 25% portion of retiree pensions and the Medicaid match, now they have to tap the local revenues that they are collecting.
DeLeon Guerrero said the Legislature still has to sit down and take a look at the numbers and come to an agreement with the administration, so they can push the passage of the budget modifications of fiscal year 2023.
Villagomez, who was also present at the news briefing, said House Ways and Means Committee chair Rep. Ralph N. Yumul (Ind-Saipan) and two other representatives who are members of the House fiscal team are meeting regularly with the governor’s fiscal team and with the Senate’s fiscal team to get updates on the CNMI’s fiscal condition.
That should smoothen the process a little bit to get the revised budget passed, Villagomez said.
He said they stand ready and will work closely with the governor’s fiscal team.
At the House’s session yesterday morning, Rep. Blas Jonathan T. Attao (Ind-Saipan) said that, as a member of the working group with the administration on the financials, they will continue addressing the 2024 fiscal year budget in the next couple of weeks.
With the 2023 budget revision, Attao said they will be working with Yumul and their fiscal analyst so they can get that product out for the House members to review.
He said they are finalizing the concurrent resolution for the budget revision.
“We all know that the ARPA was responsible for 25% of the salaries of the employees of the government. Those are definitely cut off. And 100% of our operations was paid for by ARPA. Those are cut off,” Attao said.
He said he understands that the administration is looking at a 72-hour work schedule for each government employee. Attao said they will work with that and will figure out ways to collect other funding sources.
“I will get more updates in the coming days,” he said.
At the House session yesterday morning, Yumul said the Ways and Means Committee will convene Monday to address the governor’s communication and all local bills that have been introduced.
Villagomez said yesterday that he will be calling for a session on Monday so they can get the revised budget process going with the concurrent resolution, and with any other communications or bills or committee reports.
Palacios said Wednesday that among the cost-containment measures that the administration has proactively implemented are termination of about 500 ARPA-funded positions, suspension of within-grade increases, termination of vehicle and office leases in the Executive Branch, restrictions on locally funded travel, and review of vacant position and whether they can be eliminated to fund operations for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Palacios also noted the ongoing streamlining of government functions to increase efficiency and reduce costs, including the merger of specific functions between the Department of Lands and Natural Resources and Department of Public Lands and the transfer of key functions of the Infrastructure Recovery Program to the Office of Planning and Development.
Lt. Gov. David M. Apatang said they remain committed to ensure continued payment of debt service and of the government’s obligations to the Settlement Fund and the Public School System, and allocation of $1 million to cover group health insurance for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Apatang said they ensure support for the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.’s health network program, formerly known as medical referral, with $ 1 million, which is on top of the $1.16 million already provided to CHCC in Public Law 22-22.
He said they are also committed to supporting public educational institutions and other critical functions of government through outside sources, including Compact Impact funds and CW fees.