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Rep. Tina Sablan: Governor already has enough authority

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DURING the House of Representatives’ emergency session on Sunday, Rep. Tina Sablan expressed concern over the Senate version of the budget bill, which would give the governor unlimited reprogramming power within the executive branch.

“He already has 25% reprogramming authority,” she said, adding that the governor has about $6 million that he can reprogram within the executive branch without requesting any additional authority from the Legislature.

“It is a big deal…to give the governor unlimited programming power. We essentially abdicate our responsibilities as legislators to maintain control over the public purse. The governor has enough authority in the Planning and Budgeting Act.”

She also objected to the proposal to increase the operational and leadership accounts of the Legislature, and the discretionary  funds of the governor and lt. governor.

House Bill 21-124, Senate Draft 2 — the fiscal year 2021 budget proposal — will increase the Senate and House leadership accounts from $143,722 to $300,0000.

 

The House of Representatives holds an emergency session Sunday. Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol

It also proposes $4.8 million for the judicial branch, $6.7 million for the legislative branch, and $22.7 million for the executive branch.

“I continue to believe that we are required by the Constitution to obtain the governor's concurrence in identifying revenues and expenditures that exceed the amounts he has identified in his budget submission,” Sablan said.

She added, however, that “much of the Senate's budget version has merit and is the product of diligent work these past weeks.”

She said she is especially appreciative of the additional funds identified for the Public School System, Northern Marianas College, the Northern Marianas Technical Institute, and the CNMI's Medicaid matching obligation.

The budget bill proposes $24.1 million for PSS, $3 million for  NMC, $450,000 for NMTI, $2.8 million for Medicaid reimbursement, and  over $188,000 for the local Medicaid agency.

Sablan said she also understands and does not object to the Senate proposal  to increase funds for the Rota and Tinian municipalities, which, she noted, were disproportionately affected by furloughs and austerity cuts that have crippled public services on those islands.

Under the proposed budget, $6.1 million would go to Rota and $6.1 million would be allotted for Tinian and Aguigan.

She requested that a member of the minority bloc be appointed to the bicameral conference committee, but this request was not granted.

The House conferees appointed by Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao  were House Ways and Means Chairman Ivan Blanco, House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan, and Rep. Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero with Rep. Joel Camacho as an alternate member.

Today, Tuesday, the House and Senate conference committee will meet in executive or closed-door session at 1:30 p.m.

Both houses and the governor have until tomorrow, Wednesday, to pass and approve a new and balanced budget. Otherwise there will be a partial government shutdown starting on Thursday, Oct. 1, the first day of FY 2021.

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