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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, March 15) - A lawmaker is asking Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Governor Benigno R. Fitial to return all funds taken from various government agencies, saying such action was in direct violation of the reprogramming authority allowed by Public Law 15-1.

Rep. Stanley T. Torres, Ind.-Saipan, among the House members who voted in favor of P.L. 15-1, said Fitial must return funds originally earmarked for the legislative and judicial branches as well as for the mayor’s offices, the Washington Representative’s Office and the municipal councils.

"The taking of these funds is apparently in direct violation of Public Law 15-1 and other constitutional and/or statutory laws, as applicable. In conclusion, please reply within 10 days from receipt of this letter, in order to prevent any possible litigation in this matter," wrote Torres to Fitial in a letter dated March 14.

Through P.L. 15-1, Fitial has instructed the Department of Finance to cut the budgets of all government agencies.

The budget cuts will allow the new administration to raise US$24.4 million for the fuel expenses of the cash-strapped Commonwealth Utilities Corp.

According to Charles P. Reyes Jr., the governor’s press secretary, while the administration’s respects Torres’ position on the issue, there is no alternative to the across the board budget cuts.

"All 18 members of the House of Representatives approved the governor’s 100 percent reprogramming authority, subject to certain restrictions," said Reyes.

"While we respect Torres’s budget concerns and the concerns of the other House minority members, this administration is firmly committed to living within our means. We are mandated by the Constitution to retire the deficit. Public law and public accountability also demand that our government not spend beyond its means," he added.

The governor’s spokesman said the administration is willing to entertain suggestions from Torres and other members of the Legislature on how to solve the government’s budget crisis.

"If Mr. Torres and the other minority members can review our finances and come up with the needed funds, the administration would be happy to consider sensible and prudent alternatives. Governor Fitial does not relish the budget cuts," Reyes said.

"He considers the cuts regrettable but responsible because we simply don’t have enough money. This government simply cannot afford to continue spending as it has in the past," he added.

March 16, 2006

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