FROM $96.4 million as earlier announced by the Office of Management and Budget, the amount available for government appropriation in the fiscal year 2022 budget was raised to $98.8 million, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres told lawmakers on Thursday.
In his budget submission, the governor said the projected gross budgetary sources for FY 2022 are still $144 million, the same as FY 2021’s. But the the amount available for appropriation is $2 million higher than last fiscal year’s budget because the allocation for the Settlement Fund was reduced to $39 million from $41 million.
According to the governor, “This adjustment is authorized pursuant to Public Law 20-33 (the Settlement Fund Revolving Fund) as stipulated in the Settlement Fund Agreement.”
In total, he said, the $45.9 million set aside includes the legal obligations of the government to the Settlement Fund for the minimum annual payment sufficient to enable the Settlement Fund to pay 75% of retirees’ full benefits; and $6.9 million to debt service for 2007 bonds.
In FY 2021, the amount set aside for the Settlement Fund and debt service was $47.9 million.
In his budget transmittal letter to Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez and Senate President Jude U. Hofschneider, the governor also recommended the continued suspension of the following statutory earmarks: tobacco control, solid waste, Customs, Immigration and Quarantine overtime revolving fund, hotel tax for the Marianas Visitors Authority, Public School System technical education, revenue and taxation enforcement, cigarette tax for group health and life insurance, cancer fund, the 15% gaming tax for Saipan and the 10% E-gaming tax for Tinian and Rota.
American Rescue Plan
The governor said, “With the significant reduction in resources, we examined two years of past and current expenditure activities to determine allocation. However, funding available is only sufficient to cover 64 hours per pay period.”
But he said the enactment of American Rescue Plan Act will provide additional relief to address the continued impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economy, public health, individuals and businesses.
He said the CNMI has been provided with a substantial allocation from coronavirus state and local fiscal recovery funds that are available for government services.
These federal funds, the governor said, “will aid the Commonwealth in the restoration of hours affected by austerity due to loss of government revenues impacted by the public health emergency.”
He said the funds will also allow for the reinstatement of government employees who were furloughed, and the cancelation of reduction in force as well as other measures to address “the impacts of the public health emergency.”
Torres said the availability of American Rescue Plan Act funds will help the Marianas Visitors Authority to “swiftly move forward with planning for the resumption of activities aside from the promotion and marketing of the Marianas as a tourist destination.”
The governor also wants MVA to include or create outdoor events for the community affected by the pandemic for over a year now. These include the Taste of the Marianas and a bike-run promotion for the local community including the younger generation.
“We can help improve the quality of life for our community by reintroducing events they enjoy [and] capture the resources they eagerly want to spend when travel reopens. Our first step is to mitigate the impact of those resources from exiting the Commonwealth by starting with our community promotions then, venture out to entice our visitors to come back,” the governor said.
The governor said his budget proposal is the net result of the funding requested by departments and agencies that exceeded the available resources by $108 million.
To maintain a balanced budget as part of his constitutional duty, he said critical activities and programs were considered. These include:
• The required minimum annual payments for 75% of the retirees’ full benefits.
• 25% for the Public School System.
• At least a 64-hour work week for all employees with exception of constitutionally mandated salaries.
• Group Health and Life benefits for active retirees.
The effects of the above, the governor said, resulted in a net expenditure budget of $98.8 million. This net budget requirement, he added, excludes expenditures to be absorbed by sources outside the general fund such as leases from public lands, and transfer of eligible expenditures into non-general fund sources amounting to $2.1 million and $1.29 million respectively.
FY 2022 starts on Oct. 1, 2021.