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Editorials 2018-September-14

Inexcusable delay

IN the Nov. 2009 elections, House Legislative Initiative 16-11 was approved by 58 percent of the votes cast.

H.L.I. 16-11 ended the so-called “continuing resolution” provision which allowed the government to operate each fiscal year even if no new budget was enacted into law. According to H.L.I. 16-11, “There are many costs associated with the failure to enact a budget, including increased operational costs, the inability to deal with contractual obligations, and increased deficit spending….”

With the legislative initiative’s approval, the CNMI government is now required to pass a new balanced budget each fiscal year — or “non-essential” government offices will shut down.

On Oct. 1, 2010, the first day of FY 2011, Governor Fitial announced the “constitutionally mandated shutdown of non-essential government services” because of the Legislature’s failure to pass a new balanced budget. At the time, the House and the Senate remained deadlocked on the number of government work hours that must be cut.

Citing the “bleak reality of the government’s financial resources,” the House and the Fitial administration recommended a 16-hour cut and 13 payless holidays. But the Senate insisted on an eight-hour cut which Governor Fitial said would result in an $11 million shortfall and the immediate layoff of 383 government employees.

About 1,400 government employees were affected by the partial shutdown which only ended on Oct. 20, 2010 after the Senate finally agreed to the 16-hour cut. It was not enough. Business and economic activity was still declining. The budget amount had to be reduced because of a $10.5 million shortfall.

Members of the 17th Legislature were blamed for the partial shutdown, but at least we know why they were reluctant to pass the budget: it would impose hardship on many of their constituents.

So what’s the excuse of the 20th Legislature? There are 16 days left in the current fiscal year but there is still no budget bill on the governor’s desk. Lawmakers don’t have to agonize over budget cuts. On the contrary, there should be enough for the government’s most pressing obligations. Moreover, key agencies and programs could and are getting additional funding.

So why the delay?

The governor submitted his budget proposal on April 1, 2018 yet it took the House over three months before it could pass its version, and two more months passed before the Senate approved its budget bill that it knew would be rejected by the House.

The bicameral conference committee’s first meeting will be held today, Friday. Lawmakers must pass a compromise version of the budget bill next week to give the governor at least a few days to review it.

Clearly, lawmakers should do a better of job of reviewing and acting on the budget bill in a timely manner. All this unnecessary delay is causing anxiety among government employees and their families. Time-management is a key skill for effective public officials. The apparent lack of it doesn’t inspire confidence in this Legislature.

In contrast

THE CNMI government’s disaster response was timely, methodical and effective. The governor’s office, HSEM, CUC, CHCC, DCCA, COTA, PSS, the offices of the mayors and first responders knew what to do, when and how to do it. Federal and military assistance was also timely and much appreciated.

The entire effort can be summed up in one word: competence.

No doubt Soudelor taught us hard lessons, but we’ve learned them well.

That’s progress.