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Not enough time to review Senate version of  budget bill

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WITH 14 days left in the current fiscal year, there is no longer enough time to review the Senate version of the FY 2021 budget bill.

This was the concern raised by Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios with Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao and other House members in an informal meeting on Monday.

The CNMI government must enact a new and balanced budget before Oct. 1. Failure to do so will result in a partial government shutdown.

On Aug. 13, the House passed House Bill 21-124, which proposes to appropriate $82.6 million for government personnel and operations.

The bill, however, is pending with the Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee chaired by Senate Vice President Jude U. Hofschneider.

The Senate will hold a session on Friday, but the budget bill is not on the bill calendar.

The Senate is expected to pass its own version of the bill, which will result in the creation of a bicameral conference committee that will draft a version applicable to both chambers.

The administration, for its part, also needs enough time to review the bill.

In an interview on Tuesday, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ivan Blanco said because the House and the administration will no longer have ample time to review the Senate version of the bill, “we are already starting the budget talks.”

He added, “We are already sitting down with [the administration] to talk about the Senate version — we want to sit down and compromise.”

He said the House is willing to work together with the Senate to settle possible differences.

House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan said  they “hope to see a balanced budget that is reasonable and based on what we all think are realistic projections that include the impact of federal assistance.”

For his part, Rep. Ralph N. Yumul said the goal is to pass a balanced budget on time to avoid a partial government shutdown.

Hofschneider earlier said that they “will have a product that is potentially acceptable to the House and the administration.”

 

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