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Sen. Manglona says FY 2021 budget a ‘Grade D’ product

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SENATOR Paul A. Manglona said Public Law 21-35, or the Fiscal Year 2021 Appropriation Act, is a “Grade D” product that the Senate passed past midnight on Thursday, leaving the House of Representatives and Gov. Ralph DLG Torres with no choice but to approve it to prevent a partial government shutdown.

The Senate’s lone minority member, Manglona said “unfortunately,” his fellow legislators could not offer any amendment to a conference committee report, so the floor amendments he had offered last weekend pertaining to the medical referral program, inter-island medical referrals and subsistence allowance, the 25% retirement pension, Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. utility bills and Public School System appropriation, could not be brought up again.

The members’ only option was to cast a vote of either yes or no, he said.

“In spite of the recent CNMI Fiscal Summit Report and countless other reports, our leaders have not taken the great and daunting fiscal challenges we are facing seriously. They are not willing to sit down and take on the difficult task of passing a truly balanced budget that addresses the real need of our people and the Commonwealth,” Manglona said.

“Unfortunately, the budget bill we passed incorporated a provision that gives the governor 100% reprogramming authority of the budget, which I believe will result in funds being misspent on nonessential and noncritical government services. By this action, we have effectively abdicated the checks and balances of our government,” he added.

At the end of the day, Manglona said, he had to vote “yes with extreme reservation” on the budget bill.

“I find myself between a rock and a hard place in this fiscal year and during this pandemic when our people are hurting and suffering the most. Many of our people have lost their jobs, many businesses have closed, many are facing bankruptcy, many are suffering from mental health issues, and many are just plain worried about putting food on their table especially with the recent news that the NAP program benefits will be reduced and income eligibility narrowed. For all these reasons, it was a tough call,” he said.

He said he truly hopes that this will be the last time this happens.

“Our people should not have to worry on September 30 of every year whether they would have a job to report to the following day. If this is going to be the norm in passing the budget every year, I say again, we may as well rename the legislative branch of the CNMI as the Department of Legislation falling under the management and control of the governor,” he added.

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