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Editorials 2020-January-17

Editorials & Columns
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‘A’ for effort, but no to any tax hike

AT long last, someone has publicly proposed specific measures that would provide the Public School System with the additional funding its officials say it needs (so they can afford the pay hikes they implemented in FY 2018).

Instead of airing the usual, overheated but yawn-inducing “rhetoric,” the Board of Education member from Tinian suggested two tax-hike bills that he hopes lawmakers — all “pro-education,” as they keep telling us — would consider.

The proposed legislation would impose 1) a tax hike on those earning $50,000 and above annually; and 2) a value-added tax on luxury goods. The additional revenue that the government would (supposedly) collect should (supposedly) go to PSS.

The NMI, according to the tax-hike proponent, is “the lowest tax territory in the entire country” — as if that’s a bad thing. (No it’s not. It’s actually one of the great things about the Commonwealth.) The NMI is also one of the jurisdictions where government has so many redundant agencies, offices or programs with duplicative, overlapping and/or nonessential functions and, some say, overpaid personnel.

How about looking into ways to fix all that, and then pass the savings to PSS?

Assuming, again, that the tax-hike proposals would result in more revenue, what makes us think that the (hypothetical) extra money would not be spent on the NMI government’s other and more pressing obligations?

Let’s ask MVA. In 2013, hotels agreed to an increase in the hotel occupancy tax because the additional revenue would provide MVA with more funds to promote the NMI and “enhance” its destinations which should result in more tourist arrivals. Today, MVA is still waiting to receive its share of the hotel occupancy tax collections from the previous fiscal year. Why? Because the economy has slowed down, but government spending remains high. Worse, there is seemingly no end to its many obligations that were created, usually in an election year, by politicians — and happily embraced by many voters.

And yet the same voters are also complaining about government ineptitude and abuse. So we should give government more money to achieve goals that it should have already accomplished with the money it is already collecting?

Here’s a relatively painless way to generate more revenue for the government: find more ways to revive the economy. Provide MVA with the money that it’s supposed to receive as mandated by law so it can boost tourist arrivals. Approve the land-lease extensions of Fiesta Resort and the Hyatt. Repeal laws that impose undue burdens on entrepreneurs, businesses and other legitimate investors. There should be rules and regulations, of course, but they must be reasonable. And it is certainly unreasonable that the government, which can’t run itself efficiently, likes to tell businesses how to run theirs.

Beyond blah

BESIDES overtime for law enforcers and emergency responders, medical referrals are on top of the government’s list of budget-busting expenses each year. Once again, lawmakers say are trying to find ways to reduce medical-referral costs. Well and good. So what are these cost-cutting measures? How will they “work”? How can they be implemented? When?

Some say we should also “improve” the local healthcare system by hiring more doctors and nurses as well as acquiring more state-of-the-art equipment. That requires spending millions of dollars on top of the millions of dollars provided by the federal and CNMI governments. Who’s paying?

In any case, let’s remind ourselves that other wealthier jurisdictions and nations are also struggling to cope with their rising healthcare costs. As author Jonah Goldberg would put it, “A problem without a solution isn’t a problem, it’s simply a fact. This is the nature of politics generally….”

Which is not much of an answer, probably because it’s true.

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