3 lawmakers doubt governor’s FY20 revenue projection

AT least three members of the House Ways and Means Committee are not sure if the CNMI government can actually meet the governor’s $233.2 million revenue projection in fiscal 2020 which starts on Oct. 1, 2019.

Of this amount, $147.1 million is available for government appropriation.

Last year, the administration submitted a $258.1 million budget proposal for FY 2019 and projected that $171.58 million would be available for government appropriation.

On Tuesday, the Department of Finance said the FY 2019 budget had to be reduced by $29 million amid a declining economy.

In separate interviews, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ivan A. Blanco, Reps. Roman C. Benavente and Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero said they do not want to rely on the administration’s revenue projections.

“That is why while we are reviewing the budget proposal, we will keep asking them [the administration] questions,” Blanco said. “Every time we sit down with them, we will always ask what the latest numbers are.”

He said his committee will “keep track of how much money we are actually collecting because it does not make sense if we work on the original budget proposal, only to encounter funding shortfalls in the end. So, to the best of our knowledge, we want to work on the true numbers.”

He said the Legislature doesn’t want to pass a budget “based on a projection that does not reflect the actual collection of revenue.”

Rep. Roman C. Benavente said revenue projection should factor in the islands’ workforce issues that are affecting local businesses.

He said a lot of businesses affected by last year’s typhoons are having a hard time rebuilding due to an acute labor shortage.

And if the foreign workers’ CW-1 permits expire in September, “it will hurt businesses and if that happens, what’s the guarantee the government can collect $233 million in the next fiscal year?”

Rep. Leepan Guerrero said it is “premature” to project the FY 2020 revenue.

“We are not yet done with problems with the FY 2019 budget,” he added.

Like Benavente, he said if CNMI workforce issues are not resolved in Washington, D.C., “businesses will have to adjust their operations by cutting jobs or working hours.”

He added, “They will downsize or even shut their doors completely which means the government won’t be able to collect the revenue it needs.”