Governor says he has expenditure authority, no need for bill that mandates appropriation
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres assured Friday that the Legislature need not be concerned about transparency as he has nothing to hide in the government’s expenditure plan for the estimated $515 million that’s allocated to the CNMI under the American Rescue Plan.
“The expenditure plan…will be forthcoming, and I hope we can get that in the next couple of weeks or so,” said Torres during a radio news briefing last week.
He said the expenditure plan is a federal requirement in order for the CNMI to get the money allocated to it under the American Rescue Plan. He assured his administration will soon submit that plan to the federal government.
As for the House of Representatives’ recent passage of House Bill 22-33 that will give the Legislature appropriation powers over the $515 million, the governor said there is no need for that bill.
Torres said he thanks the Legislature for having the foresight to participate in the expenditure of the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund but a review of the American Rescue Plan Act—which the U.S. House and Senate passed and President Joe Biden signed into law—shows that its expenditure authority lies within the CNMI Treasury and the head of state.
“Not in specific languages, but we do have the authority,” said the governor, noting that Attorney General Edward Manibusan already came out with an opinion that legislative appropriation is unconstitutional or not needed.
Torres does not believe House Bill 22-33 should pass the Legislature.
House Committee on Ways and Means chair Rep. Donald M. Manglona (Ind-Rota) is the author of the bill. The House majority bloc voted for the passage of the bill. House Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan) voted twice to break the 10-10 tie and pass the bill.
Torres said he is obligated under the American Rescue Plan to send an expenditure plan to the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Department of Treasury for their review. He said his administration intends to follow every step of the requirements and recommendations from federal partners as they had in the past on similar funding.
“And this, again, will be no different. We do intend to look at our deficit, what are we mandated, where can we use spend the money, and then we’ll go from there,” the governor said.
His first priority, he said, is to make sure to bring back not only those furloughed government employees today, Monday, but also to restore every government employee to 80 hours. Torres said this includes employees at the Executive Branch, as well as the Judiciary and the Legislature. Those who are under 64 hours will be restored back to 80 hours, he said.
As for autonomous agencies, he said they obviously have their own way of handling things. “But we’re here to work and to give that opportunity to everybody,” he said.
Torres said they will work with the Northern Marianas College, Marianas Visitors Authority, and even with the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. to make sure that they address any shortfall or back pay for money that they’ve been using for COVID-19 response and other emergencies and disasters.