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Administration: FY 2020 budget provided PSS with 25% of general revenues

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IN response to the Public School System’s lawsuit over its budget, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig, represented by the Office of the Attorney General, deny that PSS will receive 16% only of the CNMI government’s general revenues in fiscal year 2020.

The Commonwealth admits that PSS is guaranteed an annual budget of not less than 25% of the general revenues of the CNMI through an annual appropriation pursuant to the Constitution. But the Commonwealth “denies any allegation or implication that PSS has not received its guaranteed budgetary appropriation,” Assistant Attorney General John P. Lowrey said in reply to the lawsuit filed by Education Commissioner Alfred Ada in Superior Court.

Lowrey added that PSS was allotted 25.3% of the total local revenue and resources available for appropriation for Commonwealth government activities in FY 2020.

He said the FY 2020 budget law, or P.L. 21-8, “properly interpreted and applied, is the best evidence of its enactment, scope, and application to particular circumstances generally.”

Lowrey said although the governor’s reduction in allotments on Feb. 7, 2020 reduced each agency’s budget by 28.3%, “the Commonwealth denies that the governor’s current proposed budget revision will reduce PSS’s allotment by 28.3%.”

The Commonwealth likewise denies that the governor’s emergency budget reductions improperly calculated PSS’s budget.

According to Lowrey, the governor’s actions are licensed by the state of emergency declared by Executive Order 2020-04, pursuant to Article III, § 10 of the Commonwealth Constitution, the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Act of 2013, 1 CMC § 20144, and the CNMI Emergency Health Powers Act of 2003, 3 CMC §§ 2181-2195.

He said the budgetary modifications ordered by the governor are required by 1 CMC § 7604, adding that PSS’s request would require the governor to violate 1 CMC § 7604 and is thus illegal.

“To the extent that [the] plaintiff’s request asks this court to order the payment of money outside of an appropriation by the Legislature, it violates 1 CMC § 7401 and is thus illegal,” he added.

“To the extent that Plaintiff’s request asks this court to order a payment outside of an appropriation by the Legislature, it violates 1 CMC § 7207 and is thus illegal.”

In addition, Lowrey said the plaintiff's complaint “is barred because the issues it is based on, or a necessary portion of them, are moot as a result of the current state of emergency and school closures.”

Lowrey also pointed out that PSS’s complaint “has failed to allege facts sufficient to constitute a constitutional violation by the Commonwealth.”

Moreover, to the extent that PSS “seeks modifications to budgets or appropriations, [the] plaintiff has failed to join the Northern Marianas…Legislature, a necessary party due to its power over budgeting and appropriations,” Lowrey said.

Represented by attorney Tiberius Mocanu, PSS filed the lawsuit after the Board of Education voted 3-2 to authorize it. BOE members Phillip Mendiola-Long, MaryLou S. Ada and Andrew Orsini voted yes while BOE Chairwoman Janice Tenorio and vice chairman Herman Atalig voted no.

The lawsuit cites the CNMI Supreme Court’s Jan. 14. 2020 slip opinion which states that some of the special revenues in the budget are actually part of the general revenues, and that therefore, PSS is also entitled to 25% of those revenues.

Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho has set a status conference for June 23, 2020.

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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