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House attempt to override veto falls 3 votes short

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THE House of Representatives on Thursday voted 11 to 9 to override Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ veto of a measure that would transfer the Office of Management and Budget to the Department of Finance.

Fourteen votes were needed to override the veto.

Those in favor of an override were Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao, House Minority Leader Edwin Propst, Reps. Ralph N. Yumul, Joel Camacho, Luis John Castro, Joe Itibus, Richard Lizama, Edmund Villagomez, Tina Sablan, Sheila Babauta and Donald Manglona.

Those against were Vice Speaker Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero, House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan, Reps. Roman Benavente, Ivan Blanco, Joe Flores, Joseph Leepan Guerrero, Janet Maratita, Marco Peter and Tony Borja.

The nine-member Senate earlier overrode the governor’s veto by a vote of 6 to 1 with Sen. Paul A. Manglona casting the  lone “no” vote.  Those who voted yes were Senate President Victor Hocog, Senate Vice President Jude U. Hofschneider, House Floor Leader Justo Quitugua, Sens. Sixto Igisomar, Frank Cruz and Vinnie Sablan, the author of the bill. Sens. Frank Borja and Sen. Teresita Santos were absent.

According to the CNMI Constitution, “If two-thirds of the members in each house vote upon reconsideration to pass the bill, item, section or part, it shall become law.

In an interview, House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan noted that the House supported the measure unanimously.

But when the governor vetoed it, “I think most of us considered the governor’s concerns.”

In his veto message, the governor said he “cannot emphasize enough that this abrupt and seemingly impulsive restructuring of the Office of Management and Budget, particularly during our Commonwealth’s ongoing state of significant emergency and public health emergency, will not only cause unnecessary interruptions of the administrative business of our government, but will hinder the government’s ability to swiftly address any unanticipated budgetary concerns and to implement critical modifications when and where it is appropriate during these uncertain times.”

Several House members who were in favor of the override cited the “inefficiency” and “ineffectiveness” of the OMB in providing lawmakers with accurate, pertinent information.

But Blanco said while he is “not pleased with the way the financial reporting has been provided to this body, I put my trust that the separation of financial authority to set the budget ceiling and have another entity to be responsible for taxpayer expenditures is probably the best practice as it reflects the federal government’s separation between the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and the US Treasury.”

Blanco, who is the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, said “overriding the veto allows one entity, the Department of Finance, to pitch and, at the same time, to catch funds without internal controls that our auditors continue to highly recommend in our financial processes.”

He said auditors encourage that the Commonwealth practice internal controls to separate duties and tasks, “so that not one person or entity, with a simple stroke of a pen, controls setting the ceiling of the budget and how to expend those very funds.”

OMB is currently headed by special assistant Vicky Villagomez whose salary is capped at $70,000 per annum. If S.B. 21-33 becomes law, Villagomez’ new title will be OMB director whose salary is capped at $54,000 per annum.

 

 

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