By: L.N. Reklai

September 5, 2017 (Koror, Palau) Senate minority expressed their concerns over lack of public hearings and public discussions on the proposed FY 2018 national budget bill in a letter to Chairman of Senate Committee on Ways & Means & Financial Matters, Senator Mark Rudimch.

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The group stated that the proposed budget bill contains policy directives that will affect peoples’ livelihood but they are unaware because the Committee “failed to issue public notice of its meetings”.

Furthermore letter states that the budget bill was received by the House on August 3rd and the Committee has not conducted a single public hearing on it.

“Without such public hearings, it is now difficult to resolve “policy” issues that we have raised previously in our letters to you,” added the letter.

Minority letter cites five concerns raised in the budget bill. First one states that the projected revenue for FY 2017 budget shows deficit of $2 million but the FY 2018 revenue does not recognize this downturn. The letter states that no documentation is given to support projection of higher revenue.

Second issue is the increase in Social Security Contributions from 6% to 7% and lifting of the ceiling on income to be taxed by Social Security. Language is also unclear on whether or not the $50 additional benefit payment will continue to be paid to beneficiaries come October 1st.

Third concern states that the budget bill as proposed by the House of Delegates is not in compliance with Title 40 PNC Section 326 which requires a balanced budget.  It says HOD has increased the budget by $1.8 million putting the FY 2018 budget into deficit.

Fourth is the issue of subsidy to PPUC of $1.6 million.  Without public hearing with PPUC, how do they know whether the amount of subsidy is adequate to address PPUC’s shortfalls? Pending questions regarding PPUC’s escalating water and waste water rates are still not addressed.

Lastly, the minority questions the language to include Water Tank Tax Refund, allowing up to 10% of GRT to offset price of water tanks.  Vague language adds more questions which, according to the letter, justifies need for more information “in order to adequately analyze and review the budget bill”.

The minority asks again for answers to their questions and pushes for more transparent deliberation of the budget bill. [/restrict]