House panel OKs $1M for land claims, judgments; $2.8M for pay raise

THE House Committee on Ways and Means on Wednesday approved a budget bill for fiscal year 2018 that includes $1 million for land claims and judgments and $2.8 million for a civil service employees’ pay hike.

The budget bill will be introduced in the next House session.

For FY 2018, which starts on Oct. 1, 2017, Gov. Ralph Torres has identified total projected revenue in the amount of $236.7 million of which $145.2 million is available for government appropriation.

Ways and Means Chairman Angel Demapan, in an interview, said it was a long process and was very challenging because there were a lot of funding requests from departments and agencies.

Demapan said they were satisfied that they were able to accommodate a majority of the governor’s proposed budget items.

“We were also able to provide additional funding for the judiciary,” he added.

Reps. Donald Barcinas and Frank Aguon smile for Variety during a break from the House budget deliberations on Wednesday morning. Photo by Cherrie Anne E. Villahermosa

“But we could not accommodate all the requests. For the judiciary, we could only cover a portion of their priorities. We will consider their other priorities or those of other government programs if a supplemental budget becomes available,” he said.

The committee appropriated additional funding for critical agencies like the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services and the Department of Corrections, and allotted $2.8 million for the implementation of a new pay scale for all civil service employees Starting in fiscal year 2018, the minimum wage for all civil service and government employees will be $7.25 per hour.

The budget bill also includes $45 million for the settlement fund and $1 million for the payment of land claims and judgments.

Demapan said they did not “touch” the salary increase for elected officials in light of the lawsuit filed by Attorney General Edward Manibusan against Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson to prohibit her from implementing the pay hike law for elected officials.

“All critical agencies got a little bit more. The bottom-line here is that we looked at every department and agency, and they will be receiving a higher budget. That is something that the members are very pleased about. As revenues continue to increase we would like to see funding levels increased across the board. One of the key provisions in the budget bill is the salary increase, across-the-board, for civil service employees. The Civil Service Commission adopted a new conversion table that will give increases to all civil service employees. There will be a new pay scale because the government pay scale is obsolete and came from the 7th Legislature. Now we have a new pay scale, and in this budget we have provided funding to make sure all civil service employees will get on the new pay scale. We appropriated $2.8 million for this salary increase, and the minimum wage is now $7.25 for our civil service and government employees.”

In addition, the budget bill reduced the governor’s reprogramming authority from 100 percent to 25 percent, Demapan said.

“All in all, it was very challenging because there were lots of requests from the departments and agencies. As much as we wanted to grant all their requests, at the end of the day we had to balance the budget. But we cannot compromise when it comes to public safety and our correction officers. We want to make sure that this government remains fully open and functional for our people. And I do think we achieved that today. I wish we could give more, and it’s still our hope that when supplement revenues become available, we will come back to these requests and see how best we can accommodate them.”

Source: Marianas Variety :

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