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‘You don’t hear me whining about lack of dollars’

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If the majority bloc of the House of Representatives wants to appropriate funds, they should look at how to generate revenue to help the hospital and the CNMI’s infrastructure, according to Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres on Friday during his regular radio press briefing.

“You don’t hear me going out and whining about the lack of dollars while we need to do work and we’re here to do work,” said Torres in response to request for comment about Attorney General Edward Manibusan’s opinion that the House’s tie-breaker rule that allows the speaker to vote twice in the event of a tie contravenes the CNMI Constitution’s provision on the minimum vote requirement.

The governor said he has always respected Manibusan’s decision and that he gets guidance from him.

Torres said the Legislature has no authority to appropriate the $515 million allocated to the CNMI under the American Rescue Plan Act. “They don’t have the authority to appropriate and we consistently told that to the House. Unfortunately, they went ahead and voted on it,” he said.

With Manibusan coming out with an opinion on the tie-breaker rule and the Legislature’s lack of authority to appropriate ARPA funds, Torres hopes the lawmakers will respect what Manibusan has voiced out.

“We are here to work with each other. Again, prior to this ARPA, there’s hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funds that have been sent over to the CNMI throughout the years,” he said, and the Legislature has never appropriated those funds because they don’t have the authority to appropriate those funds.

The governor pointed out that if the U.S. Congress, both the House and the Senate, and the U.S. President feel that that the state legislature should appropriate these funds, it would have been implemented and it would have been put into the bill. Unfortunately, it is the CNMI House’s 10 members who want to appropriate these ARPA funds.

“So, again, it is unconstitutional, so I hope that the Senate realizes that and I’m sure that they’ve looked into it,” Torres said.

The governor said he has no issue with lawmakers coming out with revenue-generating legislations and appropriating funds to help build a new hospital or help the CNMI’s infrastructure.

In his opinion on the House’s tie-breaker rule, Manibusan recommended submitting a certified question petition to the CNMI Supreme Court to resolve the dispute.

Last March 19, House Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan) had to exercise his authority to break a 10-10 tie to pass a bill that mandates legislative appropriation for the $515 million Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund that’s allocated to the CNMI for government operations under the ARPA.

The OAG, the Office of the Public Auditor, and the CNMI Department of Finance have issued comments that are all unfavorable to that bill.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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