CNMI LAWMAKERS OK $169 MILLION 2008 BUDGET

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By Agnes Donato

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Dec. 30) - The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas (CNMI) House of Representatives has adopted a resolution setting the fiscal year 2008 budget at US$168.771 million.

By a voice vote, House members unanimously approved House Concurrent Resolution 15-2, which identifies $174.398 million in total budgetary resources, and $168.771 in resources available for FY2008 appropriation.

The House’s adoption of the resolution brings the 15th Legislature a step closer to passing a budget. House Speaker Oscar M. Babauta says incumbent lawmakers intend to get the budget finalized before the new Legislature assumes office on Jan. 14, 2008.

The budget resolution now heads to the Senate for concurrence. Deliberations on how the budget will be divided among the government agencies-usually the hardest part of the budget process-are expected to take place in back-to-back sessions of the House and Senate next week.

According to the budget resolution, the government projects total resources of $174.398 million in FY2008. This includes traditional revenues, as well as resources outside of the General Fund, such as $5.171 million in Compact Impact funding and $3.5 million from previously earmarked funds deemed available for reprogramming.

However, only $168.771 million is available for appropriation for government activities. Of the difference, $3.030 million will go to the Department of Public Lands, $1.7 million to tobacco control programs, $2 million to solid waste management systems, and $450,000 to the deportation fund. Bond payments account for the $7.118 million balance.

Excluding outside resources such as the Compact Impact and reprogrammable funds, revenue available to the government amounts to $160.1 million only. This represents a decline of $3.185 million from the revised FY2007 revenue projection.

The appropriation of the entire $160.1 million to overall government activities entails continued sacrifice on the part of some agencies, who are entitled by law to earmarked funds.

Northern Marianas College and the Public School System, for instance, will have to forego the nonresident workers fees they should be receiving according to law. PSS also will not be able to get its 10-percent share of gaming jackpot taxes.

Laws earmarking 10 percent of General Fund poker fees to the Workforce Investment Agency and 50 percent to the NMI Retirement Fund will continue to be suspended.

Also on hold are portions of the hotel occupancy and alcoholic beverage container taxes that otherwise should go to Marianas Visitors Authority and the Retirement Fund.

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