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Variations | Business as usual: legislative issues, 43 years ago

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THE Fifth (and last) Marianas District Legislature convened in January 1977 at what is now the Guma Sakman (former 4-H) building in Susupe.

The Popular Democratic (now known as the Democratic) Party held 15 of the 22 seats. The opposition was the Territorial (now known as the Republican) Party.

In 1977, the NMI was still a district of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, which was administered by the U.S. But later in the year, the Northern Marianas would elect the officials of a self-governing Commonwealth that would be inaugurated under the American flag in Jan. 1978.

At the district legislative building, it was business as usual on the first day of session in Jan. 1977. The Territorials complained about the committee assignments, saying they were “totally devoid of fairness and equity” and “constituted gross discrimination against…the minority membership.”

Marianas Variety reported that the Territorials did not have a member assigned to the all-important appropriations committee, but one of them was named to the economic committee, two to the political committee, and three to the social committee. “[M]ost Territorials were assigned to only one standing committee while the Popular members were assigned to two or three committees,” Variety noted.

In his response to the Territorial members’ complaint, the Popular legislative speaker said “much thought and soul-searching preceded the appointments.”  (But the leadership would later relent and give the Territorials three seats on the appropriations committee.)

The legislators then proceeded with the introduction of bills, “mostly appropriations,” MV reported. Some members, however, “expressed concern about the fact that the Fourth Legislature [also dominated by the Popular Party] appropriated more funds than were available for appropriation.”

Well.

In the second week of the legislature’s 45-day session, Variety said the “inter-party squabbling” continued. Despite minor changes in committee assignments, the minority was still “squawking” about discrimination. The minority bloc was also complaining about the Washington, D.C. trip of the speaker and the appropriations committee chairman. The speaker said they would attend the inauguration of President-elect Jimmy Carter, “consult with U.S. officials on Marianas budget matters and…establish a close working relationship with [the new] administration officials.”

According to Variety, the total cost for the 12-day trip was $4,128.40 which is equivalent today to over $18,000. “That amount includes $2,428.80 [about $10,700 today] for two air plane tickets, $1,200 per diem [about $5,200] ($50 [$220] a day each), and $500 [$2,200] for taxis and official entertainment.”

A Territorial legislator said it was a “hanky panky trip,” adding that the appropriations committee chairman left the island while the district legislature was still “in limbo” regarding the status of its funds.

In an editorial, Variety criticized the legislature for doubling its budget to $767,857 (worth $3.39 million today), and raising the members’ salary to $10,000 ($44,153) from $8,000 ($35,322). “The huge increase in the Legislature’s operating budget is also questionable in view of the fact that nearly a million dollars [$4.4 million today] in appropriation measures from last year have not been funded, and hundreds more appropriation bills await action by the Legislature in its next session.”

Resident Commissioner Erwin D. Canham also criticized the legislative budget bill and its “tremendous escalation of expenditures.” But he approved it anyway.

Among the other resolutions and bills introduced by the lawmakers:

R-5-57: Urging President Carter to transfer the military base from the Philippines and construct a military base on Tinian.

5-13: To appropriate $35,000 (about $154,000 today) to build a 10th grade classroom on Tinian. One of its lawmakers noted that in 1973, Tinian’s population was 714. “Today, we have 1,000 people and 7,000 cows.” According to the NMI education director of the TT government, the alternatives were “to continue giving Tinian students a stipend [while attending Marianas High School on Saipan] or to gradually enlarge Tinian school to include a full high school.”

5-192: To set up a program of incentives to encourage former Northern Marianas residents to return permanently to the Marianas.

 

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