Marianas Variety

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    Tuesday, September 17, 2019-6:12:29P.M.






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Editorials 2019-September-06


EVEN in the worst of times, the Public School System was allotted the biggest slice of the government budget.

When the economy (almost miraculously) improved a few years ago, PSS was provided more funding. Yet in all those years, good or bad, PSS usually received less than what it originally requested.

Besides public education, the CNMI government must also provide funding to NMC, scholarships, public health, medical referrals, public safety, the justice system and the retirees’ settlement fund, among many other things, chief of which are government payroll, bond payments, vendor payments, CUC, tax refunds. It’s a long list as the government’s annual budget measure and spreadsheets clearly show.

Typhoons Mangkhut and Yutu, which hit the three main islands in Sept.-Oct. 2018, and the downturn in tourism arrivals have delivered a devastating one-two punch to the local economy and, consequently, to the government’s financial standing. To prevent massive layoffs, austerity measures have been implemented.

We can argue that the austerity measures are not enough or are too much. We can criticize the government’s past and present spending habits. We can even raise endless questions about the payments supposedly owed by the Saipan casino investor (which, incidentally, is deeply despised by its legion of critics, many of whom are apparently unable to turn down the “immoral” casino money that IPI wires to the CNMI Treasury that they then appropriate, trumpets ablaze, for their “noble” causes. Ah, democracy).

We can, in short, complain — a democratic right we should all cherish and exercise. But meantime, government employees are still getting paid, more or less, on time. Public schools have re-opened. The college’s enrollment is through the (typhoon-damaged) roof. The scholarship programs are still cutting checks. The retirees are still getting their pensions. Patients are still being referred to off-island medical facilities. CHC, CUC, the police and the court system are still functioning.

But of course we want an end to the austerity measures. And we want more funds for PSS, CHC and other critical agencies and services — and we want our OT payments and tax refunds now.

So how can we obtain the tens of millions of dollars that will make everyone happy or at least less disgusted?

If PSS is the top priority (CHC may disagree) and public schools should get the budget they say they need — then whose funding should we cut? Shut down government offices? Which? Lay off “nonessential” government employees? Who are they? End “nonessential” expenses? Which of them? (Is Little League “nonessential”? What about fishing derbies?) Raise taxes? Whose and by how much? Stop paying the 25 percent of the retirees’ pension? Starting when?

Introduce the bills then or, better yet, circulate the initiative petitions.

Do something.

In one ear and out the other

ONE of the Zoning Board members asked (rhetorically we hope) if B&B establishments are “truly here to help us raise funds for our government or are they here for their own interest only?”

This reminds us of what a U.S. lawmaker said years ago when the American economy was still sputtering. He said the federal government had all the money it needed — Uncle Sam just had to go out there and get it. In other words, your money is only yours until the government decides to seize it, “legally,” of course, through new or higher taxes.

To answer the Zoning Board member’s question — no sir. B&Bs and other legitimate businesses do not exist “to raise funds for the government.” They opened their doors to the public to provide products and/or services that consumers may want to buy. Businesspersons take risks with their own money. They have to comply with government rules. They have to pay their bank loans and vendors and workers on time whether or not their business venture is doing well. Then they have to pay government fees and taxes. And, if they can, they make donations to community groups, events and programs. If a business fails, it’s the businessperson’s loss. If it succeeds, the community benefits.

Now if government would simply stick to the things it can do reasonably well — ensuring public safety and upholding the rule of law, among them — then it would not need an ungodly amount of other people’s money to begin with.