Gov. Ralph DLG Torres is confident that a budget would be enacted on time and avert a government shutdown.
In a statement by press secretary Kevin Bautista, he quoted Torres as saying he is optimistic that the budget bill would be enacted before the start of fiscal year 2018 exactly 16 days from today.
“We trust the legislative process and the members of the conference committee to mitigate the concerns and issues surrounding the budget bill,” said Bautista in an email to Saipan Tribune, adding that both the Torres administration and the Legislature “will not allow” a government shutdown.
Fiscal year 2018 starts on Oct. 1, 2017. Without a budget, the CNMI government will be forced to shut down, with the exception of “essential” personnel.
“As a government, we are committed to ensuring that we do not adversely affect the lives of our civil service employees who work day in and day out for our community,” reads part of the email.
According to Bautista, Torres is in constant touch with the Legislature with regards to the budget process.
“We look forward to a budget that supports the needs of our community and provides more opportunities for the people who call these islands home,” Bautista added.
On Monday, the House of Representatives rejected the amendments the Senate inserted in the budget bill, forcing the Legislature to create a conference committee, a formal meeting between selected conferees from both House and Senate to negotiate on key provisions of the budget.
One of two House members who voted to accept the Senate amendments, Rep. Glenn Maratita (R-Rota), said the 16 days left before the fiscal year ends is never too late “if the conferees act swiftly.”
“My concern is we need to allow the governor at least 10 days to review [the budget],” he said, adding that although the CNMI Constitution mandates a 20-day period for the governor’s review, it is possible for Torres to do that in less than 20 days.
“The primary issue here is…to avoid a shutdown. It is now between the conferees to work on a product to be presented to the governor,” Maratita said.
Rep. Edwin Aldan (R-Tinian) also backed the Senate amendments, which included a $793,534 increase in appropriations for Tinian and $452,962 increase for Rota.
The Senate reshuffled a total of $2.5 million among various government agencies and pre-allocated $1.5 million in the Marianas Visitors Authority’s budget, resulting in an indirect cut for the marketing agency.
Rep. Angel A. Aldan (R-Saipan) said in an earlier interview that he wishes to “push out” a final version of the budget by the end of the week.
“It is my intention to work closely with the Senate conferees and the Senate chairman of the conferees to ensure that we pass a budget on time that gives the governor ample time to review it and to ensure that we avert a government shutdown in services,” he said earlier.
Aldan chairs the House panel of conferees while vice speaker Janet Maratita (R-Saipan) acts as vice chair. Rep. Joseph Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) acts as the third member of the conferees while Rep. John Paul Sablan (R-Saipan) acts as an alternate.
Sen. Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian) chairs the Senate panel for the conference committee while Sen. Sixto Igisomar (R-Saipan) acts as vice chair and Sen. Steve K. Mesngon (R-Rota) is a third member. Sen. Justo S. Quitugua (Ind-Saipan) was appointed as an alternate for the Senate panel.