Sen. Manglona says Legislature should play key role in addressing financial crisis

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THE lone minority member in the Senate said Gov. Ralph DLG Torres has been making major decisions without legislative input.

In his letter on Saturday, Sen. Paul A. Manglona requested Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao and Senate President Victor B. Hocog to hold either a joint or back-to-back sessions as soon as possible to address several critical budgetary issues arising from the “drastic and unprecedented decisions made by the governor.” One of these decisions, he said, will “severely affect the retirees.”
The Rota senator said “it is troubling to know that these decisions are being executed single-handedly by the governor without any consultation with the Legislature.”
He said the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a “great uncertainty” regarding the CNMI’s financial state, and this allowed the governor to exercise his emergency powers. But, he added, “it is incumbent upon us, legislators, to monitor the fiscal impact of this emergency declaration on not only the remaining months of the [fiscal year] 2020 budget, but also on the upcoming FY 2021 budget plan which the governor submitted last week to the Legislature for its consideration.”
Speaker Attao on Monday called for a House session that will start at 2:45 p.m. this Thursday.
In an interview, he said the House leadership had been planning since last week to hold a session to act on measures that will address some of the pressing issues affecting the CNMI government’s financial state. Among these are the speaker’s House Bill 21-76 which proposes to repeal Public Law 20-10 so that the $15 million license fee that Imperial Pacific International is required to pay will be allotted for 25% of the retirees’ pensions.
The House, Attao said, will also consider Rep. Ralph Yumul’s proposal to amend P.L. 18-45 which allows the government to issue bonds other than general obligation bonds so it can continue to meet its obligation to the Settlement Fund.
Broad authority
Manglona said the governor, in his recent emergency declaration, invoked an authority to take all necessary measures to address the Covid-19 threats facing the CNMI. These include the broad authority to suspend all statutory or regulatory provisions and to utilize all available resources of the CNMI government as reasonably necessary to respond to the emergency.
The governor’s budget proposal, Manglona said, “reflects a significant reduction of 53% to both personnel and ‘all others’ operational expenses, and imposes a 40-hour pay period.”
“Under the present financial and economic crisis we are facing,” the senator added, “our people are demanding all of us to come out and provide the check and balances needed. The Legislature should immediately reinstate Section 203, the vetoed section of Public Law 21-8 (FY 2020 Budget Law), which would mandate reporting requirements by the secretary of Finance to the presiding officers of the Legislature from a quarterly to a monthly submission. This Section 203 is extremely important, especially during this fiscal crisis when the need for transparency and accountability is critical in monitoring our government's fiscal health.”
Manglona said the Legislature should also reinstate a provision mandating the legislative financial analysts’ access to Finance’s data system. This provision, he noted, was vetoed by the governor when he signed the FY2020 budget.
“The Legislature should effectuate this section so that the secretary of Finance can grant the Legislature’s budget analysts limited access to their data system, at least for the duration of this financial crisis. We should and must absolutely discuss immediate legislative action to address the 25% cut on our retirees’ pension. It is one thing for the governor to transfer resources from a particular budgeted item to address the Covid-19 fight, but another for him to single-handedly make a decision to cut 25% of retirees’ full pension benefits without consulting the Legislature.”
Regarding “the issue of terminating and furloughing our government employees, the Legislature should and must actively participate in providing solutions and actions for this unprecedented crisis. More than 3,000 CNMI government personnel, including civil service employees could be affected,” Manglona said.
He added that the Legislature “must play a key role in providing what government services and which employees shall remain, just as we are constitutionally mandated to do under a government shutdown in order to deliver services essential to the health, safety, and welfare of our people.”
This is why the vetoed Sections 203 and 712 (c), in the FY 2020 budget must be reinstated, Manglona said. “They will tremendously help Legislature in making sound financial decisions.”
Regarding the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security or CARES Act, Manglona said the Legislature must ensure that “all federal financial assistance will be distributed to all our residents without delay. If local legislation is needed to facilitate the immediate implementation of any federal assistance, we should be ready to pass such measures.”
For instance, he added, “we must ensure that the CNMI Department of Labor is properly staffed to assist all terminated and furloughed government and private sector employees with the documentation work needed to hasten unemployment benefits that are available under the CARES Act.”
Manglona said the Legislature should also work with the Commonwealth Development Authority, the Department of Commerce, and the Division of Revenue and Taxation on ways to provide fast and direct financial relief to small business owners. The Legislature, he added, “should assist the CNMI Small Business Development Center to expedite implementation of federal assistance for small businesses under the CARES Act.”
Manglona said it will be “negligence and a betrayal of public trust on their, the legislators’, part if we do not work hard to protect the interest and livelihood of the people whom we serve. It is not right for us, legislators, to be blindsided, muted, and left out on these unfamiliar pressing matters that could potentially have colossal impacts on the lives of many families in the CNMI. Therefore, I humbly ask you again to call for this joint session or back-to-back Senate and House legislative sessions as soon as possible for all of us to come together and collaborate in finding ways to help our people during these stressful and uncertain times.”

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