FY `99 CNMI BUDGET CLEARS HOUSE

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By Lindablue F. Romero

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (August 27, 1998 - Saipan Tribune)---After providing additional funds for education, health and public safety, the House of Representatives passed on final reading yesterday the proposed $249.26 million budget for fiscal year 1999.

With the slowdown in business as a result of Asia's financial crisis, Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio had identified the following as sources of funds to be able to carry out the functions of various agencies: $235.82 million from internal revenues, $6.68 from the non-resident workers fee fund, $6.75 from the Division of Public Lands.

The Senate will hold a session today on Rota to pass the proposed appropriation for next fiscal year.

Amid shrinking revenues, the Legislature failed to cut down the bloated bureaucracy because 75 percent of the budget will still go to the salaries and benefits of government employees

However, Rep. Karl T. Reyes, chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, said the governor has made an assurance that no additional full time employees will be hired unless he certifies that the positions are vital to government operations.

Under the proposed budget, the three critical agencies were given the following appropriation: Public Health $38.34 million, Public Safety $14.36 million and Public School System $41 million.

Due to intense lobbying of different government institutions for additional budget, the Legislature cut down by 61 percent the $3.5 million funding from the non-resident workers fee, originally appropriated for the Northern Marianas College to carry out its professional and educational programs.

In accommodating the requests of different agencies, Rep. Heinz Hofschneider proposed that the $2.12 million reduction from the NMC apprentice program be divided for critical government operations. Of the total amount, some $829,800 will be used for the Department of Public Health's medical supplies, $584,000 for the Public School system's administrative and operational needs, $400,000 for the Office of the Governor's scholarship funds, $150,000 for the acquisition of a fire truck, $100,000 for the purchase of ambulances.

At least $270,000 appropriated for the Legislature under professional services will be used for the purchase of two new buses for PSS. Some $70,000 of the $3.1 million intended for the Independent Programs will be used to fund additional field trips to the Northern Islands and the acquisition of new seismic equipment for the Emergency Management Operation.

Hofschneider, chair of the Health, Education and Welfare Committee, strongly pushed for the amendment of the budget during a leadership meeting before the session began.

With limited government funds, Reyes was able to tap the excess funds from the Office of the Public Auditor to be used to pay the 30 percent retirement bonus due to eligible government employees. Reyes said the OPA agreed that some $2.31 million is sufficient to run the agency.

Last week, the Rota Legislative Delegation held a marathon session with the House Ways and Means Committee to iron out some kinks in the appropriation for the island-municipality of Rota where an additional $1.7 million was given to equal the appropriations for Tinian. Each island will have a $15 million budget for the next fiscal year.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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