PAYROLL CLAIMS 71 PERCENT OF CNMI FISCAL BUDGET

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4,105 government employees consume revenues

By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Mariana Variety, Sept. 30, 2008) - More than 71 percent or more than US$111 million of the US$156.7 million proposed budget for fiscal year 2009 will fund the salaries of 4,105 full-time government employees in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), documents obtained by the Variety showed.

FY 2009 begins today and without a new budget, the government will continue to operate under the spending ceiling set by the revised FY 2007 budget of US$163.5 million.

But Speaker Arnold I. Palacios, R-Saipan, said it’s not too late for the Legislature to pass a budget.

"The secretary of Finance finally gave us the final figures so we can now work on the budget," he said in a phone interview.

The House has already pre-filed a budget bill which will be discussed on the floor soon, he added.

"We’re going to give our members a couple of more days to look at it," said Palacios and added that there is no plan to reinstate the FY 2007 austerity holidays which required government offices to be closed every other Friday. "But certainly each branch of the government can impose their own austerity measures," he added.

The FY 2009 budget is not on the House’s agenda for today’s session. According to the speaker, the budget still has a lot of contentious items that must be cleared.

He added that today’s session may be focused on the possible override of Governor Benigno R. Fitial’s veto of House Bill 16-77 which seeks to privatize the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.’s power generation service.

The Senate has already overridden the governor’s veto.

"This issue is going to take a lengthy deliberation," said Palacios.

Under the proposed FY 2009 budget, the executive branch can spend US$79,449,139 -- over US$56 million of which will go to salaries and the rest for operations.

The Legislature is proposed to get US$6.345 million. Of the amount, US$2.8 million will pay for salaries of its 211 FTEs.

The Washington Representative’s Office, which is scheduled to be abolished in January 2009 once the CNMI congressional delegate is sworn in, will still get funding for the first quarter of FY 2009 -- US$208,276.

The judiciary’s proposed budget amounts to US$4.5 million.

The mayor’s office of Saipan and its municipal council are proposed to get a budget of US$2.248 million.

The municipal governments of Rota and Tinian will each get US$9.2 million.

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