Senate amends $24M funding bill

THE Senate on Thursday amended House Bill 20-147 which will appropriate $24 million from the special Casino Gross Revenue Tax Account earmarked under 4 CMC Section 2308.

Of the $24 million supplemental revenue, the bill will allot $12 million for the Public School System.

Before the senators acted on the measure, interim Education Commissioner Glenn Muna and Board of Education Chairwoman MaryLou Ada said the $12 million will address critical needs.

They noted that PSS originally asked for a $54 million budget but received just $36 million.

Under the CNMI Constitution, PSS “shall be guaranteed an annual budget of not less than 25 percent of the general revenues of the commonwealth through an annual appropriation.”

Ada said for the current fiscal year, PSS should get an additional $15 million on top of its $36 million budget.

Once the bill becomes law, PSS is still owed $3 million, she said, adding that the House promised to appropriate the amount in the next supplemental budget.

Because the bill was amended by the Senate, it will have to go back to the House.

Sen. Sixto Igisomar offered a floor amendment to increase the Northern Marianas Trades Institute’s appropriation from $275,000 to $375,000.

To provide additional funding for NMTI, Igisomar reduced by $50,000 the $500,000 allotment for the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs’ Child Care Development Fund, and by $50,000 the $500,000 allotment for the Office of Planning and Development.

Sen. Jude Hosfchneider took $30,000 each from DCCA and the Office of Planning and Development to fund the rhinoceros-beetle program on Tinian. He said there is a need prevent the insect from infesting the island. The $60,000, he added, will go to the Department of Lands and Natural Resources to purchase equipment and materials that will ensure that the rhinoceros beetle will not enter Tinian.

DCCA and the Office of Planning and Development will end up getting $420,000 each.

Hosfchneider also proposed to appropriate $878,000 for phases 1 and 2 of the Tinian Elementary School parking-lot project and the pavement of the Head Start entrance road. The funding will come from the $1.295 million allotted for the repair of PSS school facilities.

He said the Tinian projects need to move forward expeditiously, but PSS is still waiting for “clearance” to complete the required paperwork and get funding from a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan.

He said rather than wait for PSS to get clearance, it should use a portion of the funding allotted for school repair so the Tinian projects can start soon.

Hofschneider also amended the provision allotting $3 million to pay landowners whose property was used for secondary roads on Saipan.

He said the $3 million should instead go to the Estate of Joaquin Manglona which will now get a total of $4 million instead of just $1 million.

Senate President Arnold Palacios said the Joaquin Manglona estate is accumulating interest amounting to $600 a day.

He said the Legislature already appropriated $2.6 million to compensate the landowners for the secondary roads so there is no need for an additional $3 million.

Sen. Paul Manglona said he supports the amendments but added that Rota also needs funding for its critical needs.

He also said that PSS was expecting that the bill would be passed without amendments so it could go directly to the governor’s desk for action.

Palacios called for a five-minute recess and asked Manglona to join the other senators in his conference room so he could be briefed on the amendments proposed by his colleagues.

When the session resumed, Manglona proposed the appropriation of $150,000 for the Department of Public Safety on Rota and $100,000 for the island’s fire department.

The funding source is the $850,000 allotted for Rota land-compensation payments.

All nine senators then passed the bill as amended.

Senator Igisomar acknowledged the presence of DCCA Secretary Robert Hunter during the session and thanked him for allowing them to take some money from DCCA’s allocations to assist other agencies in need of funding.

House Bill 20-147 will also appropriate $2.7 million for the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.; $1 million for Northern Marianas College; $300,000 for Substance Abuse Recovery and Prevention; $1.7 million for land compensation on Rota and the West San Jose Homestead Water Project on Tinian; $150,000 for the CNMI Drug Court; $126,000 for the Office of the Governor’s advocacy in Washington, D.C.; and $50,000 for the remaining retroactive lump-sum payments for government employees whose wages were frozen at step 12.

Source: Marianas Variety :

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