Senate raises FY21 budget ceiling to $96.4M

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BY suspending more earmarked funds, the Senate on Friday raised the amount available for fiscal year 2021 appropriation.

There are nine days left in the current fiscal year. If there is no new balanced budget before Oct. 1, there will be  a partial government shutdown.

From $82.6 million as submitted by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and approved by the House, the FY 2021 budget ceiling went up to $96.4 million in the Senate version of House Concurrent Resolution 21-2, which the Senate unanimously passed in Friday’s session.

All eight senators present voted yes to adopt H.C.R. 21-2. Sen. Francisco M. Borja was absent.

The House will hold a session  Tuesday to act on the Senate version of H.C.R. 21-2 while waiting for the Senate version of the budget bill.

Senate President Victor B. Hocog urged the Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee, which is chaired by Senate Vice President Jude U. Hofschneider, to “seriously complete the budget [bill] so we can pass it [this] week.”

Prior to the adoption of H.C.R. 21-2, Hofschneider reported that after conducting budget hearings and a “thorough review” of the budget measure or House Bill 21-124, as well as the current financial records of various departments and agencies, his committee “took the position of suspending several earmarks,” which resulted in an additional $13.8 million to be made available for appropriation.

From left, Senate Vice President Jude U. Hofschneider, seated, Sen. Sixto K. Igisomar and Senate Floor Leader Justo Quitugua review the Senate version of House Concurrent Resolution 21-2 during the Senate session on Friday. Photo by Emmanuel T. Erediano

The Senate version of H.C.R. 21-2 proposes to suspend the following earmarks:

  • $1,993,242 representing the 7% excise tax for Solid Waste.
  • $6,003,955 representing 50% of the tobacco excise tax for Group Health and Life Insurance.
  • $260,310 Customs, Immigration and Quarantine for airport overtime.
  • $4,743,865 hotel revenue tax for Marianas Visitors Authority.
  • $817,869 loan interest to pay the Marianas Public Land Trust.

From $70.6 million as he proposed in his original submission in April, the governor raised the FY2021 budget ceiling to $82.6 million by suspending the following earmarks:

 (a) Tobacco Control — Cigarette Tax, Public Law 13-38.

(b) PSS Technical Education — 4 CMC Section 1503.

(c) Revenue and Taxation Enforcement — 4 CMC Section 1503.

(d) Cancer Fund — Cigarette Tax, 4 CMC Section 1402(g)(2).

(e) NMIRF - Hotel Tax (20%), 4 CMC Section 18031).

(f) NMIRF — Alcohol Container (30%), 4 CMC Section 1803b.

(g) MVA — Alcohol Container (20%), 4 CMC Section 1803b.

(h) NMIRF DB Plan Fund — 15% e-Gaming as provided for in P.L. 18-30.

(i) NMIRF — 60% e-Gaming, PL18-30.

(j) Third Senatorial District — 10% e-Gaming, P.L. 18-30.

(k) First and Second Senatorial Districts — 10% e-Gaming, P.L. 18-30.

(1) Third and Second Senatorial Districts — P.L. 20-59, 4 CMC Section 1508.

Hofschneider said his committee has to address the funding requests of certain agencies, especially the Medicaid office, which earlier stated that the CNMI is at risk of losing millions of dollars in Medicaid funding from the federal government if the local program is not funded sufficiently by the CNMI government.

Sen. Paul A. Manglona, for his part, expressed concern about the proposed suspension of funds earmarked for the group health and life insurance, and the tobacco fund for the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.’s cancer prevention program.

He said the Legislature should address these funding shortfalls that will hurt the government employees and the only hospital on island.

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