Governor submits $70.6M budget for FY 2021

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GOVERNOR Ralph DLG Torres on Wednesday submitted to the Legislature his proposed budget for fiscal year 2021.

The projected gross revenue for the next fiscal year is $144,415,544. Of this amount, the net resources available for general appropriation is $70,623,458.

In FY 2020, the CNMI government’s projected budget revenue was $233 million. Of this amount, $148.8 million was appropriated for government operations, personnel and other obligations. However, due to the severe economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the amount was reduced by 48% or down to $77.1 million.

In his letter to Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao and Senate President Victor B. Hocog, the governor said the significant reduction in revenue will result in the “curtailment of critical public services, forcing our government to readjust our budget affecting government services and possibly employment.”

He said the complete collapse of the tourism industry has severely impacted the private sector, government revenues and the government’s ability to continue to maintain basic public services.

“The challenges we face with the current public health emergency is nowhere near comparable to the disastrous events we experienced with Typhoons Mangkhut and Yutu. Responding to this public health emergency is more complex with the limited resources on the ground, and our remoteness complicates our accessibility to much needed resources not readily available to save lives affected by this pandemic,” the governor said.

Attao called for an emergency House meeting on Thursday to discuss the governor’s budget submission.

House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan said the meeting was conducted via videoconference with Legislative Bureau Director Tony Sablan and fiscal analyst Dave Demapan participating.

“We have to give each member time to read the governor’s budget submission and will meet again next week, this time, via teleconference,” the House floor leader said.

Variety was told that any member of the community can participate in the meeting through the Microsoft Team app.

Healthcare

In his letter to the Legislature’s presiding officers, Gov. Torres said the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. may soon need more doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals — the same critical personnel sought by every state and territory.

Until the Covid-19 pandemic is contained and eliminated, the governor said patient care will continue to rise, thereby increasing the risks to healthcare workers who directly interact with affected patients to contract the disease and subsequently, create a shortage in health care workers.

“I am pleading for your support to ease the requirements of existing statutes that currently prevent the importation of foreign doctors and nurses licensed to practice in their country so that we can expand our resources to assist and supplement our Covid-19 response efforts and to make up for the eventual shortage of our hospital workforce as current workers naturally become exhausted and fatigued in response to our public health emergency,” the governor said.

Fiscal climate

As of March 31, 2020, the governor added, the gross budgetary resources reported by the secretary of Finance for FY 2021 totaled $144,415,544.

“Cognizant that the Planning and Budgeting Act affords me the opportunity to revise this proposal within 90 days, we will continue to closely monitor the Commonwealth’s fiscal condition and advise you of any changes within the prescribed timeframe,” he said.

The Commonwealth’s gross budgetary resources are derived from taxes — business gross revenue tax, income tax, excise taxes, and other taxes (hotel occupancy, bar, and beautification taxes) — which are 90% of the total budgetary resources, the governor said.

He added that budgetary gross adjustment reflects the inclusion of the allocation to the Settlement Fund amounting to $42 million.

In total, $50,813,963 or 35% must be set aside to meet the legal obligations of the CNMI government to the Settlement Fund for the minimum annual payment sufficient to enable the Settlement Fund to pay the 75% of the class members’ full benefits.

Not enough

The governor noted that the funding requests of departments and activities exceeded the projected available resources by $215,446,529.

To maintain a balanced budget as part of his constitutional duty, the governor said critical activities and programs are considered with minimal allocation. Accordingly, he said, the budget submission lists the following underlying assumptions and considerations:

• The payment of 75% of the salaries of retirees.

• 25% for the Public School System.

• 20-hour workweek for all employees with the exception of constitutionally mandated salaries.

• $6,484,168 to fund the transfer of medical referrals to the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation.

• Removal of all non-profit organizations in the budget.

• $1 million for Northern Marianas College, H.R.5956, U.S.P.L.115-218.

• $400,000 for the Latte Academy, H.R.5956, U.S.P.L.115-218.

• 137 employees migrating to other programs outside the general fund either 100% or prorated time.

“The effects of the above resulted in a net expenditure budget of $70,623,458. This net budget requirement excludes expenditures to be absorbed by sources outside the general fund, such as the leases from public lands and transfer of eligible expenditures into non-general fund sources amounting to $4,555,709 and $2,610,000 respectively. The net operating budget for appropriation is $70,623,458, an amount equal to resources available for general appropriations and represents a balanced budget,” the governor said.

Appropriations

The governor’s FY 2021 budget submission proposes $18.7 million for the Public School System; $153,131 for the Board of Education; $4.6 million for Northern Marianas College; $6.7 million for CHCC; $3.4 million for the judiciary; $619,201 for the governor’s office; $378,268 for the lt. governor’s office; $2 million for other offices under the governor and lt. governor; $841,022 for the Department of Commerce; $1 million for the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs; $2.1 million for the Department of Corrections; $2.7 million for the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services; $3 million for the Department of Finance; $407,174 for the Department of Labor; $973,897 for the Department of Lands and Natural Resources; $3 million for the Department of Public Safety; and $1.2 million for the Department of Public Works.

For the legislative branch, the governor proposes $4 million. Of this amount, $1 million is allocated for the House members’ discretionary funds or $50,000 each; $143,000 for the House leadership account; $452,694 for the senators’ allocations or $50,000 each; and $143,722 for senate leadership.

For the salaries of lawmakers, $864,010 was appropriated for House members but this includes the amount to be received by House members who opted to get their retirement pensions instead of their salaries.

For their part, the senators were budgeted a total of $337,065 for their salaries, but this also includes the amounts for the senators who will receive their pensions instead of their salaries.

For the members who will receive their salaries, each will get $32,000. But this amount can be adjusted based on the availability of fund.

House Floor Leader Sablan said although their salaries are “protected” by the CNMI Constitution, he acknowledges that in light of the economic crisis, they must also share the “burden.”

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