Lawmakers ready to cut allocations

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THE members of the 21st Legislature are now preparing to cut their respective funding allocations in response to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’s call for across-the-board cuts.

The governor, in his letter to Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao and Senate President Victor Hocog, said the government’s $148.8 million budget for fiscal year 2020 should be cut by 28.3 percent in light of the drastic decline in tourist arrivals due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Speaker Attao said the governor used his emergency power to implement across-the-board cuts for all the three branches of the government.

House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan said each of them in the House has taken the step to cut their allotments, specifically for leased cars, fuel, office supplies, and other operational expenses.

“We are now all preparing for the cuts. We have started making adjustments already and holding off on all the purchases that were initiated prior to the governor’s budget-cut letter,” Sablan said.

He could not say, however, if they can still cut their salaries, which were already reduced by 20 percent last year.

From $39,000 per annum, each lawmaker’s salary was reduced to $32,000 per annum. The governor’s annual salary is $126,000 while cabinet members receive annual salaries ranging from $60,000 to over $70,000.

The chief justice gets $130,000 a year; an associate justice, $126,000; the presiding judge, $123,000; an associate judge, $120,000; and the attorney general, $130,000.

In a separate interview, House Minority Leader Edwin Propst noted that each legislator’s salary is way lower than that of the governor, lt. governor, and cabinet members.

In his own case, he said, he doesn’t get reimbursements and has never drawn down subsistence and travel allowances.

Not retroactively

On Monday, the speaker and other House members invited Finance Secretary David Atalig to a meeting to discuss the budget cuts.

House Floor Leader Sablan said they were initially informed by the administration that the reductions should be implemented retroactively, which means that the 28.3 percent cut applied to the first quarter of the fiscal year that started on Oct. 1, 2019.

But Sablan said the governor indicated in his letter that the reduction should be “for the remainder of the fiscal year,” which means that it applies only to the expenditures in February and the following months.

Sablan said the suspensions of flights from China due to the novel coronavirus outbreak did not happen in October, adding that the administration lifted the 72-hour austerity measure in December.

“So the expenditures in the first quarter of the fiscal year should not be included in the cuts,” Sablan said.

In the meeting with the House members, Sablan said the Finance secretary’s explanation was consistent with the governor’s official communication.

The governor met with lawmakers on Tuesday morning to reiterate that the cut will be applied prospectively, not retroactively, Sablan said.

“The governor made it crystal-clear, and said he was sorry for any misunderstanding,” Sablan added.

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