Partial government shutdown averted

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AT about 10:20 p.m. Wednesday evening, the bicameral conference committee approved a compromise version of the FY 2021 budget bill.

The House and the Senate were set to hold back-to-back sessions to pass the measure which the governor was expected to sign after reviewing it.

In a statement, Gov Ralph DLG Torres said the attorney general “and our team are on standby here at the office to receive the budget. As soon as the budget is passed by both houses later tonight, I will act on this bill to prevent a government shutdown.”

He added, “Compromise has been reached, and as leaders, we are committing to ensure the needs of the public are met despite the global struggles. There will be some needs unmet by the budget reduction, but the hard work of providing essential services will continue. We must take leadership in not just surviving with less but putting in the hard work in creating more.”

In the coming year, the governor said, “our administration is committed to revitalization. Revitalization of our economy through strengthening the government’s tools toward economic diversification and resilience. Revitalization of our infrastructure to harden against disasters. Revitalization of our community through fostering ownership for the islands we call home.”

10 years ago

On Wednesday morning, as the bicameral conference committee resumed deliberation following a long night of discussions, Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao, in an interview, talked about the first partial government shutdown that happened a decade ago.

Essential agencies are exempted from the shutdown, but Attao said “essential” is a very broad term, and that currently, the CNMI does not have a true definition of what “essential” means when applied to employees or positions.

“There are certain departments and agencies that rely on certain individuals [and] positions,” he said.

“If we had a definition of ‘essential employees,’ it would be very difficult to just list them because every day is going to start changing. They’re going to add more and probably take away some.”

The speaker said some employees are easily identified as essential, such as those in public safety, education, and health.

“But then, outside of that realm, we also got to remember the [tax] collections, our borders, and all of that kind of stuff,” he added.

He said in 2010, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial was “very creative” when the government had to partially shut down for about eight days because the House and the Senate could not agree on a compromise budget.

Attao was a legislative staffer at the time.

“[The Fitial] administration actually guided the essential employees through it. So we were able to save money, in a sense, under the shutdown, but it was able to also protect the services that were being provided to the people and to our visitors,” Attao said.

“This time, obviously we don’t have tourists, but that doesn’t mean that there [are] no flights coming in. Businesses are down, but that doesn’t mean that people are not paying their taxes. So we got to take that into consideration. I’m sure the administration is doing that,” Attao added.

He noted that in 2010, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres was a freshman senator.

“[The governor] is very well aware of how it was back then, so I’m sure that he’s going to take that experience [into consideration], if we do go on a shutdown,” the speaker said. “But of course I’m hoping that a shutdown will not happen. We have good individuals on both sides of the table right now trying to avert a shutdown.”

Under the CNMI Constitution, there will be a partial government shutdown if the government fails to enact a new, balanced budget before Oct. 1.

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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