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House passes $15.5M spending measure

THE House of Representatives on Tuesday unanimously passed a substitute version of House Bill 21-78 to appropriate the $15.5 million in Saipan casino license fee payment.

All the 16 House members present voted yes. Vice Speaker Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero, Reps. Sheila Babauta, Marco Peter and Joseph Flores were absent.

Authored by House Ways and Means Chairman Ivan Blanco, H.B. 21-78 retains the following allocations recommended by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres:

  • • $1 million for the Rota Legislative Delegation;
  • • $1 million for the Tinian Legislative Delegation;
  • • $3 million for the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation;
  • • $1 million for the NMI Settlement Agreement;
  • • $3 million for the Public School System;
  • • $1 million for Northern Marianas College;
  • • $1 million for the Marianas Visitors Authority;
  • • $500,000 for the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.; and
  • • $4 million for outstanding vendor payments incurred as a result of the devastation by Super Typhoon Yutu.

The following provisions proposed by the House minority bloc were also adopted:

  • • The appropriated funds shall be for these specific purposes, and shall not be considered as an offset for funds that have been previously transferred from the general fund as of the effective date of this Act.
  • • Within 30 days of any distribution of funds pursuant to this Act, the secretary of Finance shall submit to the speaker of the House of Representatives, the president of the Senate, the chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, and the chairman of the Senate on Fiscal Affairs, a detailed expenditure report on the distribution of funds paid out from the casino license fees.
  • • The report shall include the dates of payment, the agencies of vendors paid, amounts paid to each agency or vendor, and the balances still owed, if any, to each agency or vendor.
  • • The secretary of Finance shall certify to the Legislature the availability of any additional collections above projected resources of fiscal year 2020 or other funds realized in the future, to be designated to the senatorial districts for appropriation in accordance of Public Law 20-10 until the amount of $10 million to the senatorial districts is fully returned and satisfied.
  • • Expenditure authorities shall be personally liable for expending these funds for any other purpose.
Click to enlarge
From left, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ivan Blanco, House clerk Linda Muna, Rep. Tina Sablan and House legal counsel Joe Taijeron during a break from Tuesday’s House session.  Photo by Emmanuel T. Erediano

In his remarks during the discussion, House Minority Leader Edwin Propst noted that the bill “is a true product of bipartisanship — of us working together and communicating effectively.”

He added, “I appreciate it and my conscience is clear — I can vote yes to it right now, thanks to the good work of my colleagues.”

Rep. Tina Sablan, a member of the minority bloc, also thanked the House leadership saying, “It’s rare that we are in agreement with the majority and the administration for that matter. We do appreciate the openness of the leadership and Chairman Blanco, in considering and accepting more stringent recording requirements and clarifications that the funds appropriated shall not be considered an offset but a supplement to the general fund.”

A member of the leadership, Rep. Joel Camacho, thanked all the members for the unanimous support, and the legislative staff for helping them put the measure together.