Speaker, minority leader say governor can cut FY20 budget

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SPEAKER Blas Jonathan Attao and House Minority Leader Edwin Propst both believe that if budget cuts are necessary, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres can exercise his emergency power to implement “across-the-board” cuts in fiscal year 2020 budget.

The House is anticipating a budget cut recommendation from the governor who indicated in his executive order last week that his administration will, within 30 days, come up with “a recommendation for adjustments to our FY 2020 Budget consistent with the CNMI Planning and Budgeting Act.”

The administration told lawmakers last week that the government stands to lose $35 million to $40 million in FY 2020 projected revenue as a result of a decline in tourist arrivals due to novel coronavirus outbreak.

In separate interviews, the speaker and the minority leader said they would prefer that the governor implement across-the-board cut, rather than making an “adjustment” through legislation.

“It is easier to do across-the-board cuts,” Attao said adding that although it is going to affect every single line-item in the budget, everybody would get cut equally.

“The governor can do an across-the-board cut through the emergency powers in the Planning and Budgeting Act. That’s the fastest way and it has less impact in totality,” Attao said.

Propst did not want to speak for the other members of the minority bloc because they have not come up with a unified position on the issue.

But as an individual member, Propst said, “I agree with the speaker.”

He said he thinks that an across-the-board cut would be less political, less divisive, and easier to move compared to revising the budget via legislation, “which we all know can become very political.”

He hopes that once the governor implements the cuts, it would be made equally for everyone.

However, “we do need to look at the impact of that on the lowest paid government employees.”

However, he said, “when we do across-the-board cuts, the first people [that may be affected are] the ones making the lowest salary.”

Propst said for those receiving a high salary, the governor, for example, who makes $120,000 a year, “a 20 percent cut won’t be that much, but for those receiving only $20,000 a year, it’s going to be too hard.”

He said the lowest-paid government employees should be exempted from cuts.

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