OPINION | Let’s stick to reality, and facts…

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DEAR Friends,

While the House Minority was accused of spreading lies and for being divisive by the President of the Republican Party in a recent press release, we Minority members continue to keep our constituents informed on important issues affecting the Commonwealth, regardless of whether it is politically popular or not.

While we are told by our critics to respect the vote, we must also ensure we respect the law. The Commonwealth Constitution’s Article X Section 6 is very clear: ... “the government shall retire the deficit during the second consecutive fiscal year following the year.” The Administration has run a deficit in the last three fiscal years, which violates Commonwealth law.

And here is what is so absurd. In an effort to try and retire the deficit, the government is actively trying to float an obligation bond. In other words, we will reduce the deficit by getting deeper into debt. That makes about as much sense as getting more credit cards to get out of credit card debt.

Has the government been overspending? The answer is, YES. This is a FACT based on real numbers submitted in annual reports and in audits.

Can all our problems be blamed on typhoons? The answer is NO, and the following paragraphs prove this.

For FY2016, the CNMI finished the fiscal year with a $16 million surplus. Please note that we finished with a surplus even after Super Typhoon Soudelor devastated Saipan, at a time when we were still recovering.

For FY2017, there was an $8 million deficit.

For FY2018, there was a $26 million deficit. The deficit tripled in one year, before Super Typhoon even existed, before it ever hit us.

And for FY2019, there was a $98 million deficit, which originally was blamed entirely on Yutu, but now there are new culprits to blame, such as medical referral costs.

The fact is, medical referral has always been a huge expense for the CNMI. While medical referral costs ballooned to $16 million in 2019, that amount was only $3 million more than FY2018.

So what are the solutions to our economic woes? Well, the Administration and Leadership want revenue generating bills, which so far have translated to expanding gambling and raising taxes.

The Minority believes we should do a better job with enforcement, with collecting taxes owed to the CNMI government, and that no businesses get preferential treatment.

Right now, IPI owes tens of millions of dollars to the CNMI government, and no one is holding them accountable.

Why isn’t the DPW Secretary, who is the President of the GOP, insisting that IPI pay their developer’s infrastructure tax? Why does IPI get a special pass when other businesses do not? Why isn’t IPI paying the estimated $18 million they owe for the developer’s infrastructure tax? That money could certainly help improve our infrastructure. Part of that money owed could be used to install a much needed traffic light right by the casino/Cha/Garapan Elementary School intersection. Part of it could be used to enhance the Paseo and its surrounding streets and areas, something sorely needed right now

The Administration wants to reduce the costs of medical referral. Then why isn’t Governor Torres insisting that IPI pay for an MRI for CHCC? This alone would reduce medical referral costs significantly. IPI owes the CNMI people $37 million in its contractually obligated community benefit fund, so an MRI could easily be purchased by utilizing the fund. Instead of the Administration spinning the facts about the community benefit fund, why not explain to the public why it is not being used to help our people, as it was originally designed to do? Why even bother having it in the Casino License Agreement if it is not being honored?

The truth is, this government has a problem with runaway spending, and they don’t want to acknowledge or deal with it. Full time employment (FTE’s) positions under the Administration have exploded while revenue projections have fallen short in the last three years. Travel has also exploded, with first class travel and junkets that make taxpayers cringe.

For the record, the Minority is not crying over a devastating loss from the last election, as falsely claimed by the President of the GOP. We accepted the people’s vote and went to work. We continue to work. There are six of us who may be Minority members, but we work and serve with the Leadership in committees and respect each other in and out of the office. Our friendships in the Legislature are important to us, and so is kindness, civility, and decorum. The battles we have during debates in Sessions or committee meetings come with the job. It is nothing personal, and we are grateful to the Speaker and our colleagues for the mutual respect we continue to give each other.

If we want to make things better for the CNMI, then all elected and appointed officials need to remember that everyone has a seat at the table. Everyone. And that includes the House Minority and the general public we serve, regardless of citizenship, race, religion, income, or political affiliation.

Please know that true progress and real solutions are only achieved when we deal with reality. And the reality is, we need to be more fiscally conservative. We also need to ensure no business gets special privileges and passes. If we want to attract new industries and investors, then they must be ensured the CNMI offers a level playing field for all businesses, large or small, old or new. All we ask in return is that they respect and follow all local, state, and federal laws. It is that simple.

Thank you and wishing you and your family a blessed weekend.

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