CNMI Lawmakers Approve 2013 School, Hospital Budgets

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House, Senate members ‘making progress’ on overall budget

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Sept. 19, 2012) – The Northern Marianas’ bicameral budget panel yesterday agreed to provide the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. (CHC) $5 million and the Public School System (PSS), $33 million, in fiscal year 2013, which starts on Oct. 1.

Rep. Ramon S. Basa, vice chairman of the panel and House Ways and Means Committee head, said they also expect CHC to get a $7 million line of credit from Marianas Public Land Trust (MPLT).

"It is more likely that the hospital will get that money from MPLT," he added.

Basa also said the House conferees agreed with the Senate proposal to provide PSS with a $33 million budget.

"We decided to provide more for PSS to avoid double-session classes," he added.

But with nine days left to enact a balanced budget for FY 2013, the members of the bicameral conference committee have yet to agree on the amount for personnel funds.

The Legislature has to pass the $114 million spending measure on or before Oct. 1 to avoid a government shutdown.

Over the last several days, the House and the Senate conferees tasked to draft a budget version acceptable to both houses have been trying to identify government entities whose personnel budgets will be reduced.

The Fitial administration’s budget proposal for FY 2013 is $114 million which is $12 million higher than the FY 2012 budget. The House passed H.B. 17-313, or the appropriation measure, without making too many changes to Gov. Benigno R. Fitial’s original submission.

The Senate version reduced the total personnel budget by $3.1 million which was then allocated to government operations.

From a $54.8 million budget for personnel as proposed by the House, the Senate cut it down to $51 million.

From $59.4 million, the total budget for government operation was increased to $62.5 million by the Senate.

The conference committee, which met yesterday, was still working on the numbers, Basa said.

The senators want higher budgets for the senatorial districts, the judicial branch, the Public School System and Northern Marianas College, and a reduced personnel budget for the executive branch.

The Senate slashed the personnel budgets of the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs (DCCA) by $304,777; the governor’s office by $224,466; the Department of Corrections by $206,955; and the Legislative Bureau by $183, 151.

The Senate also reduced the operations budgets of DCCA by $143,751; the governor’s office by $152,244; the Department of Finance by $75,982; the Office of the Attorney General by $35,670; and the Department of Labor by $20,000.

In an interview, Basa said they are trying to agree on priorities. They will try to identify which agencies need more money for personnel, he added.

DCCA Secretary Melvin Faisao along with his directors met with the members of the budget panel yesterday to lobby for the restoration of their original budget for personnel. He said they need to fill vacancies.

The bicameral committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Jovita M. Taimanao, Ind.-Rota, asked Faisao: "Why is it that many positions in DCCA have been left vacant for more than a couple of years?"

DCCA wants a budget for 59 personnel but the House reduced this to 56 and the Senate to 50.

Faisao said they have been telling the Office of Management and Budget since 2010 about the need to fill those vacancies but they were told there was no funding.

"Those are important positions but have not been filled," he told lawmakers.

The Historic Preservation Office (HPO), for example, has yet to hire a historian, Faisao said.

According to acting HPO Director Merti Kani, they may lose federal funding because the grantor requires them to have a historian in order to continue receiving assistance.

The basketball courts in Garapan, Chinatown, Capital Hill and Tanapag also need to be maintained, Faisao said.

The 29 percent cut the Senate is proposing "will not reduce the chance that someone will be stabbed 16 times," he added, referring to the possibility that juvenile crimes will increase if DCCA’s youth programs are not adequately funded.

"We cannot always build the future for our youth but we can build our youth for the future," he said.

Now that they heard DCCA’s concern, Basa said the bicameral panel’s members must agree to approve the original funding proposed for the department by the House.


But aside from personnel budget issues, Basa said the budget meetings are "making progress."

He said they should be done with the final draft by the end of this week. Hopefully, he said, they can agree on the final numbers today and review the language of the bill tomorrow so they can act on it before the weekend.

For her part, Taimanao, the Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee chairwoman, said the conferees are "working very hard to make sure that they come up with a draft the all members will support."

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