Governor Ralph DLG. Torres in a radio media briefing on Friday emphasized the irresponsible and negligent actions made by the House of Representatives’ Majority Leadership in their version of the FY 2023 Budget bill that was submitted to the Senate on Monday, August 29th, where they proposed to take away critical funding from healthcare, community and cultural programs, vocational rehabilitation services, and public safety departments and agencies.
“I am deeply disappointed with the House Majority’s decision to cut critical government resources from essential governmental agencies and departments in favor of giving themselves an additional $1.2 Million for House Allocations,” said Governor Torres.
“That is the very first thing they did, then they reduced funding for the Carolinian Affairs Office by $94,000, they reduced the Indigenous Affairs Office by $89,000, and Veterans Affairs. After advocating to protect our Veterans and thanking them and their families for their service, they took away $165,000. They also took off $79,000 from the Women’s Affairs Office and a much needed $103,000 from the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.”
Regarding the Department of Corrections, Governor Torres expressed that despite the House Majority conveying concern about the Department of Corrections’ lack of funding and manpower due to the pandemic and natural disasters, they subsequently decided to cut 56 of their critical FTEs.
“We’ve been advocating for our students as our next generations, and yet the House Majority decided to cut an FTE from the CNMI Scholarship Office and $151,000. They further reduced 26 employees for the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services. They talk about accountability, transparency, and helping the community, and yet they cut $973,000 from CHCC,” said Governor Torres.
The CNMI Office of the Governor Legal Counsel, Gilbert Birnbrich, who was also present at the media briefing, stated that, “There are issues with the House budget, and a couple of the issues revolve around the American Rescue Plan Act, Commonwealth Workers Funds, and other parts. The biggest issue from a legal standpoint regarding ARPA is the fact that the House was trying to appropriate these funds for various uses, which is simply inappropriate and illegal. Because these are federal funds, and therefore, are heavily regulated for specific purposes. They are regulated by the Federal Government regarding how it should be spent and used, and as such, they are ‘custodial funds.’ Because of that, they cannot be treated like general fund money. The Governor, under ARPA, has the authority to spend it, not the Legislature, and he has a very well thought-out plan which the House of Representatives ignored. So, we believe that their appropriation of the ARPA funds is unlawful.”
Also present at the briefing was Secretary of Finance David DLG. Atalig who stated, “The House version of the budget has the biggest red flags across the board. The Governor’s proposal was to pay 80% of government employee salaries with the other 20% to be covered by ARPA. However, the House reversed this proposal by appropriating only 20% of government employee salaries from the general fund, and the remaining 80% from outside sources. Their assumption is that ARPA can fund the 80% remaining for government employee salaries, and that’s unallowable. We have limits in the provisions in government with regard to ARPA funding, and do not have the available resources in ARPA to cover 80% of personnel for the whole government. The other point is that they took $20 million that is supposed to be reimbursed back to ARPA from Medicaid, and decided to use that $20 million for appropriations to different agencies – which is not allowable.”
Governor Torres strongly urges the Senate to make the necessary amendments to the FY23 Budget Bill in order to prevent the potential detrimental ramifications that the House’s budget version may have on the government’s critical functions, especially concerning public safety, healthcare, and essential community and cultural programs.