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Governor signs FY ‘18 budget, vetoes some items

GOVERNOR Ralph D.L.G. Torres on Tuesday signed the 2018 budget bill, with line-item veto including the  budget cut for  Marianas Visitors Authority’s, the hiring of additional physicians for Rota and the allocation for the first lady’s foundation.

According to the administration, House Bill 20-105 – now Public Law 20-11— is by far the largest government budget in CNMI history, with a total revenue pegged at $236,770,472, of which $145,260,075 will come from local resources.

Among the highlights of the new budget:

Retirees

Allocates $56 million to retirees, of which $45 million goes to Settlement Fund for the minimum annual payment of benefits of settlement class members.

Marianas Visitors Authority

“After weighing priorities critical to sustaining the economies of Tinian and Rota,” the administration said, “Governor Torres believes it is in the best interest of the commonwealth to increase the number of visitors to the two municipalities, fostering economic growth.

“Therefore, he line-item vetoed procurement of two tractors for municipalities of Tinian and Rota ($250,000 each) to revert funding back to MVA for the purpose of creating specific promotional programs tailored to the municipalities of Tinian and Rota.”

In addition, there will be about $69,000 for tourism educational outreach to middle and high school students in the Public School System.

Judiciary

Its budget was increased by $664,803 — $6,640,172, up from $5,975,369 in FY 2017.

There’s also an increase in funding for law enforcement and increased funding for the Department of Public Safety, the fire department and Corrections for stronger law enforcement and salaries for law enforcement officials.

The budget also allows for the conversion of all civil service employees to a new, updated pay scale. The starting hourly wage is now $7.25, up from $6.55.

Scholarship

There will be an increase in the financial assistance awards to CNMI students enrolled in accredited colleges or universities and vocational and trades schools.

According to the administration,  
“The purpose of the CW fees is to fund ‘ongoing educational curricula and program development by commonwealth entities.’ The CNMI Scholarship Office is the primary government agency for the disbursement of educational financial assistance for CNMI students and residents.

“By redirecting the administration of CW fees through the CNMI Scholarship Office, it will allow the administration to not only achieve greater transparency with the disbursement of the funds (which was a concern raised by members of the U.S. Congress), but it will also allow the Scholarship Office to develop a plan that accurately indicates the commonwealth’s goals of achieving a benchmark of educated and skilled workers.”

The CNMI Scholarship Office, in collaboration with the CNMI Department of Labor, “will make the funds available for students seeing higher education and training, technical training or vocational education and trades available offered by CNMI educational entities (Northern Marianas College, the Northern Marianas Trades Institute, Latte Training Academy, Island Training Solutions) certified by CNMI DOL. The Scholarship Office and DOL will work to identify, approve, and certify programs and jobs critical to sustaining the CNMI’s economic future.”

The administration said the “move of the CW fee administration to the Scholarship Office will also not hamper certified educational entities, like trade and apprenticeship schools, from expanding their course offerings or curriculum or risk their operations. Rather, the move allows the CW fees to go directly to scholarships for students, creating an incentive for more of our residents to learn a new skill through institutions like NMTI, enter the workforce, and have more economic opportunities for themselves and their families.”

Settlements and judgments

The new budget allocates $1 million for payment of government liabilities which include judgments and settlement agreements. “This underscores the administration’s commitment to addressing the government’s longstanding obligations in a fiscally sustainable matter.”

In his transmittal message to the Legislature, the governor said the “passage of this budget by the Legislature gave me less than 20 days to review and make any comments.”

He said in order to avoid a government shutdown, he has signed the bill “with reservations” specific to certain problematic section.

Some of these provisions, he added, “are either unenforceable, unclear or inconsistent with other provision of the law….”

He also wishes “to make specific mention of the importance of Legislative action for the establishment of a special fund specifically called the Settlement Fund that reserves specific tax revenues from the total collected revenue to be deposited to pay directly to and exclusively for the benefit of settlement class members. I cannot emphasized the need for this legislative action strongly enough and I respectfully request the Legislature’s prompt action to address this issue.”

He noted “several movements of funding [in the budget bill] that were not explained in the administrative provisions such as the increase and decrease of funding between the three branches of government.”

He said “without any explanation or justification, the respective expenditure authorities and/or the Office of Management and Budget will have to make a determination on how the implementation should take place.”

The governor approved the provision setting aside money for the purchase of a pumper truck for the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services.

However, he disapproved Sections 301 (c) and (d) for the procurement of two tractors with a batwing mower for Tinian and Rota.

He said the funding for these two pieces of equipment will be best used for tourism advertising and promotion designed to increase the number of visitors to the two municipalities.

Torres also vetoed Section 601, Utilities which states that the “amount appropriated for the payment of reprogrammed for the payment of utilities, except for the purpose of covering increased utility cost due to rate increases.” [sic]

The governor said he rejected it because “the language is vague and not subject to any reasonable interpretation.”

Also vetoed was Section 607 which would have authorized the hiring of additional physicians and dental assistants for Rota.

The governor said the provision was disapproved to allow the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. the flexibility to address its staffing needs critical to the hospital and health centers

The $100,000 allocation for the Lady Diann Torres Foundation was likewise vetoed “to enhance transparency.”

According to the governor, “I support the programs and activities directly promoting our indigenous languages through literacy and arts. I encouraged the foundation to provide this administration, the Legislature and the public with the outcome of these programs for future consideration.”

Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/98861-governor-signs-fy-18-budget-vetoes-some-items

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