Marianas Variety

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    Saturday, March 24, 2018-2:31:57P.M.






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Editorials 2018-January-12

That is the question

BESIDES workforce issues, the news topics of the week include the PSS pay raises and how CHCC spent $200,000 in local funds. Lawmakers are also discussing — or passing — other spending measures for critical government agencies and programs, land compensation as well as Rota and Tinian.

In the summer of 2009, Variety reported that the CNMI government was facing an $8 million shortfall that could mean the termination of over 300 government employees. The “solution” was the imposition of austerity measures — work-hour reductions and pay cuts.

In May 2010, the chief justice and the presiding judge urged the Legislature not to pass a legislative initiative that would reduce the salaries of justices and judges.

In June 2010, then-acting Gov. Eloy S. Inos “called on the Legislature to hold back-to-back emergency sessions…to pass a bill that will grant him authority to reprogram at least $6 million from independent agencies to the general coffers to avoid a ‘payless payday.’ ” The administration needed to “reprogram funds available to all public corporations, agencies and entities of the commonwealth government except those... restricted from being touched by federal law or by federal grant conditions.”

In Aug. 2010, Variety reported that although there would be no austerity conditions instituted for the remaining few weeks of FY 2010, lawmakers were expected to pass something “much worse” in FY 2011. These included “deeper work-hour reduction: from 80 to 64 work hours per pay period” and unpaid holidays. A possible “solution,” according to one lawmaker, was to increase taxes and government fees.

A news headline from June 2011: “Another partial payless payday; admin warns of even more challenges in July.”

In Feb. 2012, it was reported that “two separate Department of Finance remittances totaling at least $343,000 to the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. helped avert yet another payless payday…for some CHC employees.”

Back then, the economy was gasping for air. The government was not collecting enough revenue for its many obligations. That changed just two or three years ago. The economy, finally, is recovering. The government, finally, is collecting more revenue.

Would you rather argue over spending bills or austerity measures?

And yet

IT is strange that as the local economy continues to improve, its primary engine, the private sector, is increasingly worried about its future. Businesses are losing or about to lose a significant number of their experienced and long-time workers because of a federal law which includes the following statements of congressional intent:

To minimize, to the greatest extent practicable, potential adverse economic and fiscal effects of phasing-out the Commonwealth’s nonresident contract worker program and to maximize the Commonwealth’s potential for future economic and business growth by… providing a mechanism for the continued use of alien workers, to the extent those workers continue to be necessary to supplement the Commonwealth’s resident workforce….

AVOIDING ADVERSE EFFECTS.—In recognition of the Commonwealth’s unique economic circumstances, history, and geographical location, it is the intent of the Congress that the Commonwealth be given as much flexibility as possible in maintaining existing businesses and other revenue sources, and developing new economic opportunities….

Hence, the same law provided for an “extension of the transition period, or any extension thereof,” and required the Interior Department to submit a recommendation to the U.S. Congress regarding the future immigration status of long-term guest workers. Interior submitted its report in the spring of 2010. The U.S. Congress ignored it. In Dec. 2014, the U.S. Congress removed the original extension provision from the federalization law.

Meanwhile, the national media are reporting worker shortages in the U.S. where wages are high and the population of over 300 million include 11 million illegal aliens. In contrast, the faraway and remote NMI has an indigenous population of about 15,000 and over 12,000 legal guest workers registered with and screened by the U.S. government.

Meanwhile, federal officials say they don’t want to harm the local economy, but their actions — or lack thereof — are strangling it.

About 10 years ago, the CNMI government, which said it was broke, requested $140 million in federal bailout money. Today, the CNMI government is merely asking the U.S. to restore the original extension provision of the federalization law, and allow the commonwealth to retain the workers it already has.