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Senate conferees no-show for budget meeting

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THE bicameral conference committee did not convene on Monday because the Senate conferees did not show up for a meeting with their House  counterparts.

Without a new budget bill enacted into law before Oct. 1, 2020, there will be a partial government shutdown.

Senate President Victor B. Hocog has appointed Senate Vice President Jude U. Hofschneider of Tinian, Sen. Vinnie Sablan of Saipan and Sen. Teresita Santos of Rota as the Senate conferees with Sen. Frank Cruz of Tinian as alternate member.

The Senate president said he was confident that the Senate conferees will work with the House conferees in drafting a version of the budget bill acceptable to both chambers “so that we can avoid a government shutdown.”

But while the House conferees led by Rep. Ivan Blanco waited at the legislative building to hear from the Senate conferees on Monday, none of them showed up to meet with the House conferees.

In an interview, Blanco said he hopes they can meet today, Tuesday, to iron out their differences.

The other House conferees are House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan, Rep. Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero and Rep. Joel Camacho as alternate member.

“We are hoping that we meet as soon as possible because we only have until midnight Wednesday,” Sablan said.

This photo of the empty Senate parking lot was taken at 4:45 p.m. on Monday. Photo by Emmanuel T. Erediano

 

 

House conferees led by Rep. Ivan Blanco, second right,  wait for their Senate counterparts in the speaker’s conference room on Monday. Also in photo are Rep. Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero, House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan, second left, Rep. Joel Camacho, back, and Legislative Bureau Director Tony Sablan, right. Photo by Emmanuel T. Erediano

“I am sure we can try to work hard in the spirit of compromise that could lead to a reasonable and balanced budget,” he added. “I am confident we can, but there’s got to be a spirit of compromise.”

The House, by a vote of 18-2, rejected the Senate version of House Bill 21-124, which raised the budget ceiling to $96.4 from $82.6 as originally proposed by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres who submitted his budget proposal in April, and a revised version in July.

The Senate added $13.8 million to the projected revenues by suspending additional earmarks. The senators also tapped the $7.5 million in FY 2020 Customs, Immigration and Quarantine reimbursement monies and appropriated the biggest portion of it for Tinian and Rota.

The Senate version of the budget also scrapped the House proposal to reduce the cabinet members’ salaries while giving the governor 100% reprogramming authority over executive branch funds.

In case of a partial government shutdown, Blanco said the administration, through the heads of departments and agencies, will have to identify which employees are essential and not. These essential employees in critical service agencies will be exempted from the partial government shutdown.

The first and, so far, only time the CNMI government had to partially shut down was in 2010. It lasted eight days and affected about 1,400 government employees. 

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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