Pangelinan admits to budget blunder - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Pangelinan admits to budget blunder

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - Was last week's lightening speed passage of Bill 516 really all about stimulus funding, or about cleaning up a major error in the substitute Fiscal Year 2013 budget? The budget bill leaves certain unclassified employees without a paycheck this fiscal year.

It's now the start of the fiscal year and for some GovGuam employees in the unclassified service - the next few weeks could be incredibly nerve-racking as a budget blunder took away the authority to ensure these individuals get paid.

It took 48 hours for Senator Ben Pangelinan and Speaker Judi Won Pat to introduce and get support for the passage of Bill 516. The legislation was to change language in local law as a result of the U.S. Department of Education's recent extension for its local counterpart to obligate American Reinvestment and Recovery Act money. But the bill contained much more than that - a $3 million appropriation that would have gone to the Department of Mental Health for its permanent injunction instead was re-appropriated to the University of Guam and the Guam Community College - something federal management team's D. James Kiffer would have appreciated a heads-up about.

"That was out of the blue," Kiffer stated. "I wish they had had a public hearing. I would've gone and clarified how those funds were to be were actually being counted on for sustainability."

But there's more than just the provision for Mental Health - evidently lawmakers included language to correct a major problem with the Fiscal Year 2013 budget. Pangelinan said, "There was a technical error when we were editing the bill and the title of the section with referencing where those employees may be employed."

The so-called technical error in this new fiscal year budget restricts the employment of a majority of unclassified employees in the Judicial and Legislative Branches of the government. Effective today, the law prohibits the expenditure of funds to employ non exempt unclassified employees of the Judicial Branch of GovGuam, including judges and justices, law clerks, the chief marshal, the compiler of laws, chamber clerks, bailiffs as well as legislative staffers.

Chief Justice F. Philip Carbullido pointed out the problem and warned that if it isn't rectified, it could cause the suspension of court operations. That's where Bill 516 and its lightening-quick passage comes in to correct the budget blunder. Pangelinan continued, "We put it in there to fix it before the beginning of the fiscal year so we are hoping the governor kind of respond to the concerns that the judiciary expressed and act quickly on the bill."

It's a technical error that up until today flew under the radar. "So it just means that really that in order for those individuals to be paid then we have to put the word back in that reaffirms that those unclassified positions can exist in the Legislature and the Judiciary," Pangelinan added. "So they still have job? Yes, yes.  So it means they're not authorized to be paid? How does that work? I think that's something the Judiciary is looking at and maybe even making suggestions for us because they have the same problem we have so we're kind of getting the benefit of their review of it." He additionally confirmed that this affects all legislative staffers as well as judges, justices and unclassified workers."

Governor's chief policy advisory Arthur Clark confirms the governor vetoed the bill this afternoon, expressing concerns with the legislation including the provision that freezes employment of unclassified employees. "As it stands today under the old law, all of the unclassified employees except those who were exempted under the current fiscal year are ineligible for continued employment and no new employees are eligible to be hired. So this is obviously an issue that the legislature needs to deal with also," he expressed.

"It certainly seems unfair in the grand scheme of things, but the main reason for the veto is the last section of the bill, which de-appropriates $3 million for the funding of the Mental Health case."

And with the veto, if the budget blunder isn't fixed soon, these unclassified workers could end up without a paycheck come Friday, October 12.

For the federal management team, Kiffer is pleased with the veto and concerned if lawmakers move for an override.  Either way he's clearly disappointed with how the bill was handled without the public being given the opportunity to provide comment, noting, "Well, I guess this government can act rapidly, can't they?"

Court policy, planning and communications director Josh Tenorio says the Judiciary is confident that operations should not be interrupted, adding that the court staff attorney has pointed out the separation of powers doctrine that does not allow one branch of government from preventing another branch from conducting its constitutional duties.

The Judiciary is waiting to see what action the legislature will take.

In the meantime, Senator Pangelinan is adamant that the bill did not take any money away from mental health saying the three million would only have been transferred if the court had ordered it and the funds were only available for Fiscal Year 2012. The governor however says that money should have remained as the judge stayed court ordered payments but could impose them again at anytime.

As a result of the veto, these unclassified employees remain unfunded and leaves intact the provision related to the appropriation to Mental Health. The governor has called senators into special session for 8 o'clock in the morning tomorrow to address a bill that he is sending to the Legislature.

As of news time we have not received a copy of that legislation. 

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