CNMI Lawmakers Pledge To Avoid Government Shutdown

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Senate, House committee to meet, resolve differences next week

By By Cherrie Anne E. Villahermosa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Sept. 18, 2015) – The Senate and the House conferees are likely to have something to come to an agreement when they resume their discussions on the budget bill early next week, two key lawmakers told Variety on Thursday.

The bicameral conference committee remains on recess and will meet again in the Senate chamber at 9 a.m., Monday.

The bone of contention is the Senate proposal to take $2.5 million from the Marianas Visitors Authority’s $12 million budget for fiscal year 2016, and use it instead for pay raises and other items.

In separate interviews on Thursday, Senate Floor Leader Arnold Palacios and Rep. Antonio Sablan said they were revisiting some of the provisions in the Senate proposal, and that both parties will have something on the table for discussion on Monday.

They were also asked to comment on Gov. Eloy S. Inos’ saying that it would be irresponsible on the part of the Legislature not to pass a budget before Oct. 1, 2015, the start of the new fiscal year, and risk the shutdown of nonessential government offices.

The governor, as required by law, submitted his budget proposal to the lawmakers in April.

Palacios and Sablan said they will not allow a government shutdown to happen.

"We are truly working very hard," Palacios said. "Although not necessarily in a formal setting but we are continuously working and trying to iron out our differences. I am in constant meeting with the [other senators] and we are discussing our options and revisiting our proposal and the House is also doing the same."

He added, "We are still finalizing it and hopefully tomorrow and over the weekend we would be able to discuss this informally with our counterparts in the House. We see a possibility that we are going to resolve this."

He said he "can certainly understand the governor’s concerns. We are conscientiously working; we will not allow a shutdown. Government shutdown is unacceptable. I personally will not allow that."

Sablan, for his part, said the governor’s statement underscored the importance of passing the budget and preventing a government shutdown.

"The word ‘irresponsible’ is maybe a little strong but we cannot put our people into any worse situation," Sablan said. "The consequence is too much for us to face at this moment. We just suffered from a network outage and a disaster situation so we don’t have to put the people through a shutdown."

He added, "I think we all understand what needs to be done and what we need to do is to come together and compromise and agree on a budget and send it to the governor."

The Senate proposal will increase the salaries of all law enforcement officers, all the resident directors of Rota and Tinian, the associate commissioners of the Public School System and the chief of the Office of Management and Budget.

According to Palacios, "What we did was just increase the salary cap for Rota and Tinian directors to up to $45,000 a year. That is up to the mayors to implement those raises. Our division directors are making up to $49,000 and most of the department heads are making $54,000 a year, but the resident directors, under the law they are just getting $36,000 a year."

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