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Retirees support bill to allot casino license fee for pensions

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OVER 30 retirees have signed a letter asking the Senate Committee on Fiscal Affairs to approve House Bill 21-76, which will redesignate the $15 million annual casino license fee for the payment of 25% of the retirees’ pensions.

The letter was addressed to the Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee chairman, Senate Vice President Jude U. Hofschneider.

Among the signatories are former Department of Public Safety Commissioner Joe Castro and Patricia Guerrero, a former legal assistant to the administration legal counsel.

The letter said the retirees’ pension is their main source of income on which “we depend solely to pay for our basic needs as we grow older into our senior years while still living on this Earth.”

Guerrero said they are gathering more signatures from retirees who support the passage of  H.B. 21-76, which was introduced by Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao.

The House has passed the bill, which is now with the Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee.

The bill will amend Public Law 21-10, which removed the retirees’ pension from the list of beneficiaries of the casino license fee. Instead, it assigned the gross revenue tax to fund the pension and appropriated $2 million of the license fee for Rota, $2 million for Tinian and $11 million for Saipan.

Noting that Imperial Pacific International is due to pay its license fee next month, Guerrero said they, the retirees, want to make sure they continue to get their pension. 

In a separate interview, Castro said retirees had “experienced  pension cuts. This is the second time. When it happened for the first time, during the Fitial administration, we received a notice. I accepted that. I didn’t say much. Many of us just waited for whatever would come until the late Gov. Eloy Inos came out with a solution,” referring to the legalization of casino gaming on Saipan.

He said when Gov. Ralph DLG Torres announced in April that the central government could no longer afford to pay the retirees’ 25% benefit, they did not get a notice.

“If the government has obligations, we the retirees also have obligations. When you don’t give people the proper notice you make them raise their concern. In a democracy, you have to respect the people that you serve,” Castro said.

In May, the administration said retirees would again receive their full pension starting May 30, 2020.

Castro said it is the lawmakers’ “obligation to look into this and please don’t say there is no urgency in acting on it.”

He is asking other retirees to sign the letter. “Call me at 785-4822 for more information,” he said.

Under the settlement agreement approved by the federal court, the CNMI government must pay 75% of the retirees’ benefits. With the improvement of the economy due to the entry of new investors and a rise in tourism arrivals, the CNMI government had also been paying the 25% of the retirees’ benefits.

However, Super Typhoon Yutu, which hit Saipan and Tinian in Oct. 2018, and the ongoing Covid-19 crisis have significantly weakened the local economy, resulting in a steep drop in government revenue.

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