Legislature passes FY2006 budget, Governor to review
by Sabrina Salas Matanane, KUAM News
Thursday night, senators reconvened at around midnight with the task for the Fiscal Year 2006 budget. While they were expected to vote, instead Speaker Mark Forbes recessed session until 7am. Lawmakers though got started at around noon, whereby a majority vote the budget passed. The vote was 11 "Yes", 4 "No". All Republican senators voted in favor of its passage, joined by two Democrats - Frank Aguon, Jr. and Adolpho Palacios.
Just before the vote, Senator B.J. Cruz (D) tried one last attempt to restore the changes that are in store for the Civil Service Commission, however the motion failed.
With the passage of the FY2006 budget comes significant changes within
• The legislation in effect would abolish the Procurement Appeals Board, placing its functions under the Office of the Public Auditor. Because of the additional responsibilities for the OPA, the bill provides for a $17,000 raise for the Public Auditor. Democrat senators continued their chorus of disapproval of the specific changes in the government because they felt they should have gone through a public hearing process. Ironically, an amendment introduced late Thursday night by Senator Rory Respicio (D) that would change per diem policies for government travel to bring them inline with federal government guidelines was questioned by Senator Ray Tenorio (R), who felt that those changes should have gone through a public hearing process. Senator Lou Leon Guerrero responded to Senator Tenorio's concerns by saying it was ironic he would request for a public hearing for this amendment when the GOP-controlled Legislature would not allow for a public hearing for the provisions that pertain to the CSC and Government Procurement Appeals Board.
• The Fiscal Year 2006 budget also gives the Governor different levels of transfer authority for specific government agencies. In some instances, the Governor could have transfer authority from 20% to as high as 100%. This is one of the Governor's wish list items. As we reported KUAM News had confirmed with Speaker Mark Forbes that on the day session started he had a meeting with the Governor. Forbes at the time said, "He wants to make some changes to the budget especially in certain miscellaneous provisions and administrative provisions obviously he would like to see some flexible transfer authority and some other changes along those lines."
Meanwhile, amendments were offered by the Democrats last night; some passed, while other failed. Of note, Senator Respicio introduced the three amendments relative to prohibiting the Governor from hiring or firing staff of the Lieutenant Governor's Office. The rationale would be that with separate budgets, each elected leader should be able to manage their own funds and staff. All three amendments failed, with the vote being tallied as 7-0 for each.
All Democrats voted in favor of the amendments - the lone Republican in the Legislative Session Hall at the time of voting was Senator Antonio Unpingco (who also voted in favor of the amendment). The proposed budget will head to Governor Felix Camacho, who will have to act quickly with Fiscal year 2005 ending at midnight tonight. After the vote and during the extension of remarks, Senator BJ Cruz recognized the hard work of the staff at Senator Eddie Baza Calvo's office in working on the FY2006 Budget, but said if there was a "Blackmail Budget" like the Governor cited last year, he said it would be this one.
Senator Cruz contended that with all the transfer authorities and perks given to the Governor in this budget he would be forced to sign this despite the significant changes with the Civil Service Commission.
Senator Palacios, who was one of the two senators that voted in favor of the FY2006 budget, said he had to support the bill for the good things that it has, but he will deal with the things he doesn't like tomorrow. Senator Palacios on the floor said he was happy about the bill because it included provisions to fund the construction of new schools and that it included a recall mechanism for elected offices such as the mayor and vice-mayor, which was a bill he had introduced earlier this year.
The Governor has less than 12 hours to decide what action he will take
on the FY2006 Budget Bill.
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