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73 percent of $164 million budget for work force

By Mark Rabago

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, March 24, 2008) - Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Senator Maria Frica T. Pangelinan reported that 73 percent-or about US$121 million-of the House-approved budget of US$164 million has been earmarked just for the salaries of government personnel in fiscal year 2008.

In her report on H.B. 16-51 that was passed by the House of Representatives last month, the chairman of the Senate Committee of Fiscal Affairs said that, while personnel costs for 4,393 full-time employees get the lion’s share of the budget, appropriations for other expenditures total roughly US$43 million for FY2008.

Pangelinan (D-Saipan) said that since the CNMI government is in continuing resolution with no austerity measures in place, US$5.3 million of the US$7.2 million cost overruns the past six months since the start of the fiscal year (October 1, 2007) have been expenses for personnel costs.

Another point of the House-passed budget that needs clarification, according to Pangelinan, is that department heads are still receiving their salaries at the FY 2007 level, "contributing to additional spending in comparison to the governor’s estimate of total revenues for FY 2008. H.B. 16-51 does not address this."

The report recommended that the budget bill be referred to a joint committee, which the Senate unanimously voted to adopt during its session Wednesday.

The House passed the 2008 appropriations bill on March 3. It was introduced on February 29 by House Way and Means chair Ray Yumul and earmarks US$164.25 million for all government agencies under the General Fund and US$3.23 million for the Department of Public Lands, which is funded by income from leases on public lands.

In addition, the bill distributes US$5.117 million of Compact Impact funds, or reimbursement money from the federal government to the CNMI for hosting Micronesian citizens.

The budget will apply to the current fiscal year, which runs from October 1, 2007 to September 30, 2008.

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