Lawmaker says high court opinion may affect FY20 budget

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THE local Supreme Court’s slip opinion regarding the annual funding of the Public School System may affect the fiscal year 2020 budget law, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ivan Blanco said.

Governor Ralph DLG Torres, Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios, Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig and Chief of Staff Angel Demapan met with CNMI Board of Education Chairwoman Janice Marie A. Tenorio, Education Commissioner Dr. Alfred B. Ada,  Vice Speaker Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero, House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan and Rep. Joel C. Camacho to discuss the funding needs of the Public School System.  Contributed photo

The Supreme Court last week announced its answers to the certified questions submitted by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Board of Education member Marylou Ada pertaining to the PSS annual budget.

The Torres-Palacios administration, the Attorney General’s Office, and lawmakers are reviewing the high court’s slip opinion, but Ada said she believes it favors PSS.

The CNMI Constitution guarantees PSS “an annual budget of not less than 25 percent of the general revenues of the Commonwealth through an annual appropriation.” BOE/PSS and the administration disagree over the meaning of “general revenues.”

In an interview on Tuesday, Blanco said the NMI Supreme Court’s slip opinion may affect the $148.8 million FY20 budget, which appropriates $37.7 million for PSS.

“I think PSS, the administration, and the Legislature need to sit down and decide…what is the best way forward,” Blanco said.

Although the high court’s opinion did not indicate that it has retroactive effect on the government’s annual budgets, Blanco said, “In my personal opinion, if we want to be true to the mandate of the Constitution, we may have to consider the previous budgets all the way back to fiscal year 2015.”

The Legislature started appropriating 25 percent of the general revenues for PSS based on House Legislative Initiative 18-12, which was ratified by voters in the 2014 general elections.

Blanco noted that the government is now approaching the new budget season.

He said he looks forward to meeting with the Finance secretary to discuss the high court’s opinion and arrive at a decision.

“That decision will affect everybody — students, teachers, and other departments and government agencies,” he added. “So it is best that we know where our finances are.”


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