'16-hour work cut' on the table, Torres says

BUDGET MEETING: Gov. Ralph Torres confers with Board of Education Chairwoman Janice Tenorio and Public School System finance and budget director Christopher Ching during a meeting Tuesday at the governor's office. Photo courtesy of Marianas Variety

SAIPAN – Gov. Ralph Torres on Tuesday said the administration may implement a 16-hour cut in the government's work schedule if revenue collections do not improve in the next couple of months.

Last week, he announced a 72-hour work schedule – an eight-hour reduction – starting June 23, as part of the government's austerity measures.

The Public School System and Board of Education officials on Tuesday afternoon met with the governor, Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios and Finance Secretary David Atalig to discuss the PSS budget.

Acting Education Commissioner Jackie Quitugua told the governor that since January, PSS has reduced power usage, suspended locally funded travel and local hiring, and moved some employees from locally funded to federally funded positions.

Torres said teachers should be the last to "suffer" in the reduction of work hours.

"But I have to suggest to go back and do more cuts," he told the education officials. "If our revenue does not improve in the next couple of months, we might even go to a 16-hour work cut."

'All other possible options'

Board of Education Chairwoman Janice Tenorio said they will go back to the "drawing board and look at all other possible options." She reiterated that the work hours of the front-liners, including teachers, teacher aides, instructors, bus drivers and support staff, should be the last to be cut.

Quitugua asked the governor and Atalig the amount of funds that the central government can transfer to PSS every two weeks.

Atalig said the central government cannot remit $1.7 million, which was supposed to be the allotment every two weeks.

"There is no cash to transfer. We have not been collecting the money that we projected. We are trying to improve our collection and speed up our reimbursement from FEMA," Atalig said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

He added that the central government spent more than $25 million on typhoon recovery.

"We have not received the reimbursement that will assist us."

'Our collection is erratic'

Atalig told the education officials, "We are doing our best to get the reimbursement. Funds are coming in. We know that we have obligations. You ask if we can give you an amount that we transfer to you biweekly, but the answer is I can't give you that. I don't want to give you a number when I know that our collection is erratic. But we will sit down with you and settle our obligations."

Asked about the total budget cut for PSS, Atalig said it will amount to $7.5 million.

The fiscal year 2019 budget originally allotted $42.8 million for PSS.