Leepan: MVA needs funds to promote NMI

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REPRESENTATIVE Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero on Tuesday introduced a bill that would suspend the allocation of Marianas Visitors Authority funds to the three main islands of the CNMI.

MVA’s main funding source are the hotel occupancy tax collections that should be remitted by the Department of Finance to the MVA Trust Fund.

4 CMC Section 2159 (a) states that “not less than two percent for each municipality, but not less than $300,000 each, whichever is greater, of the funds per fiscal year from the MVA Trust Fund, shall be remitted to the Municipalities of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota to be used to implement charter flight tourism incentives, promotional programs, tourism enhancement activities, beautification projects, island-wide cleanup, and to include purchasing supplies and equipment for such projects. The expenditure authority of these funds shall be the respective mayor of each island.”

House Bill 21-128 aims to temporarily suspend that provision of the law for  the 2021 fiscal year.

Guerrero said each of the three main islands gets $300,000 from the MVA Trust Fund.

In March 2019, he requested the mayors to submit an expenditure report.

“I’m kind of concerned how this money has been spent,” he said, but he commended Saipan Mayor David M. Apatang for using the funds to clean up and beautify the island.

Guerrero applauded Apatang for spending the MVA funds wisely.

MVA, however, has yet to remit funds to the three main islands “because there’s no money.”

He noted that there is still $7.7 million in hotel occupancy tax money from FY 2019 and FY 2020 that has not been remitted to  MVA.

“We need to be mindful that we need to give money to MVA to promote the CNMI when we do reopen,” Guerrero said.

His bill will be in effect from October 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021 or until MVA receives its share of the hotel occupancy tax collections.

Rep. Tina Sablan,  a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, noted that “this is the same pot of money that the Senate is proposing to suspend in their amendment to the concurrent [budget] resolution.”

She added, “I’m wondering if this would be a matter best addressed in our budget process, since it would only be effective anyway for fiscal year 2021 if we pass it.”

She said there are a few days left to pass a budget for fiscal year 2021, which starts on Oct. 1, 2020.

Sablan said more information is needed.

“I would urge that we not place this on calendar, but I do think that Congressman Leepan's concerns can and should be addressed in our ongoing budget process,” she said.

Guerrero reiterated that MVA is struggling so it would be best to suspend 4 CMC Section 2159 (a)  to help the tourism agency.

Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao, for his part, urged Guerrero to provide members with additional information.

Sablan then requested that the House Committee on Ways and Means be given the opportunity to obtain reports from the municipalities about how the MVA funds have been spent so that lawmakers can have more information and make a sound decision.

By a nearly unanimous voice vote, the bill was placed on the bill calendar.

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