Education commissioner sues administration over ‘inaccurate allotments’

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COMMISSIONER of Education Alfred Ada has sued the Torres administration for “inaccurate allotments” made to the Public School System in fiscal year 2020 “in violation of the CNMI Constitution.”

Ada, through attorney Tiberius Mocanu, filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief in Superior Court on Thursday.

The lawsuit named Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Secretary of Finance David DLG Atalig as defendants.

The lawsuit asks the court to declare P.L. 21-8 or the government’s fiscal year 2020 budget law to be unconstitutional, and issue a preliminary and permanent injunction to stop Torres and Atalig from issuing any payments or disbursements that do not comply with the Constitution.

Article 15, Section 1(e) of the CNMI Constitution, as amended, provides that PSS “shall be guaranteed an annual budget of not less than 25% of the general revenues of the Commonwealth through an annual appropriation.”

Mocanu said Public Law 21-8 appropriated $37,718,904 to PSS, an amount that is only about 16% of the budget, he added.

He said Governor Torres is in violation of the CNMI Constitution because he is carrying out payments and collections under P.L. 21-8.

Atalig, as secretary of Finance, is also in violation of the CNMI Constitution because every allotment and disbursement made pursuant to P.L. 21-8 is unconstitutional, Mocanu added.

Mocanu said P.L. 21-8 identified total budgetary resources of $233.22 million. After several allocations for earmarks, P.L. 21-8 provided $148.89 million as available for appropriation.

Mocanu said the subtotal of $84,331,519, which is the total revenue diverted as earmarks, is excluded from the money available for appropriation to other entities such as PSS.

On Jan. 14, 2020, the CNMI Supreme Court issued its opinion in a certified question petition in which it defined the terms “general revenues” and “special revenues.”

According to Mocanu, the high court’s ruling, “which became controlling law in the CNMI when it was issued, controls this current year’s budget,” P.L. 21-8.

He said based on the high court’s ruling, eight of the earmarks that were classified in the FY 2020 budget as “special revenues” are actually part of the “general revenues,” and PSS should be entitled to its 25 percent share of the revenue contained in those earmarks.

The earmarks included allotments for retirees and bond payments.

On Feb. 7, 2020, Mocanu said Governor Torres sent a special message to the Legislature, revising the projected revenue for fiscal year 2020 and mandating a 28.3% cut in allotments to all agencies and branches of the government.

Mocanu said pursuant to Torres’ special message and accompanying budget reduction, PSS’ budget will be reduced by 28.3%.

Thus, Mocanu added, PSS will receive a 28.3% reduction from an already invalid budget that failed to include all the government’s “general revenues” as defined by the high court ruling.

Mocanu reiterated that the governor’s calculation of PSS’ budget does not adhere to the CNMI Supreme Court’s decision regarding the definition of general and special revenues.

“Instead, the reduction maintains the allocations under P.L. 21-8 which only appropriated PSS 16% of the general revenues of the Commonwealth.”

Mocanu added that the House of Representatives took no action and allowed Torres’ proposed cuts to go into effect without modification.

“PSS has not received, and will not receive its constitutionally guaranteed share of the general revenues if Atalig is permitted to continue to make payments as prescribed under the revised budget for fiscal year 2020,” Mocanu said.

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