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Last updateTue, 27 Aug 2019 12am







    Monday, August 26, 2019-8:58:41P.M.






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House OKs 100% reprogramming authority for governor, other officials

THE House of Representatives passed a measure granting the governor, the chief justice, the mayors and the Legislative Bureau director 100 percent reprogramming authority over their funding allotments.

The passage of House Bill 21-56 was opposed by members of the community, including Public School System teachers, who complained about the “lack of transparency” and the “failure of the administration to explain the government’s financial crisis.”

Reps. Ralph N. Yumul and Tina Sablan confer during a break from Tuesday’s House session. Photo by Emmanuel T. Erediano

Celina Babauta, the secretary of the newly formed Northern Marianas Descent Council, told House members that the bill “usurps” some of the powers of the Legislature.

She said lawmakers are giving up “one of the most influential powers granted by the Constitution.” She added, “If you give up this power, you, our legislators, may as well resign.”

The bill was passed by a vote of 14 to 4 and it now goes to the Senate.

Voting against its passage were independent Reps. Tina Sablan, Sheila Babauta, Donald Manglona and Richard Lizama.

Those who voted yes were the bill’s author, Rep. Ralph N. Yumul, Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao, Vice Speaker Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero, House Floor Leader John Paul P. Sablan, Reps. Ivan Blanco, Joel Camacho, Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero, Roman Benavente, Janet Maratita, Jose Itibus, Luis John Castro, Joe Flores, Edmund Villagomez and House Minority Leader Edwin Propst who voted yes “with deep reservation.”

Reps. Antonio Borja and Marco Peter were absent.

Prior to the vote on his measure, Yumul introduced a substitute bill which has a provision “restricting” the governor’s reprogramming power to within the executive branch.

For his part, Propst offered an amendment to “protect” the funds of autonomous or semi-autonomous corporations including the Public School System, Northern Marianas College, the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., the Commonwealth Utilities Corp., the Office of the Public Auditor and the Office of the Attorney General.

Both proposals were adopted by the House.

But Rep. Tina Sablan said she could not support the bill which she finds unnecessary, adding that the administration “has repeatedly failed to accurately notify the Legislature about the true financial status of the Commonwealth.”

“Why are we doing this? Why is this necessary? I suggest that we follow the law,” she told her follow House members.

Rep. Sheila Babauta noted that the governor already has 25 percent reprogramming authority, adding that she “didn’t understand why they need to give him unlimited power.”

Rep Ralph Yumul, for his part, said the administration asked for flexibility so it can fix the government’s financial mess.

House Floor Leader JP Sablan said the governor should have the flexibility to “abort future cuts in the budgets of the different branches of the government.”

Rep. Roman Benavente said the Legislature needs to work with the administration to find solutions to the government’s financial problem.

“I don’t agree with what’s going on but this is where we have arrived. We are now taking the opportunity to find revenue to help our people,” he added.

H.B. 21-56 states that “it is financially imperative that the governor, chief justice, director of Legislative Bureau, the mayors of the first, second and third senatorial districts, the mayor of Northern Islands, each member of the municipal councils for the first and second senatorial districts and the chairman of the municipal council for Saipan and the Northern Islands be provided with reprogramming authority over and beyond the provisions of 1 CMC Section 7402 [or the Planning and Budgeting Act] in order to avoid fiscal crisis and deficit spending.”

The bill aims to help all the branches of the government in prioritizing their needs until a comprehensive budget for fiscal year 2020 is enacted.