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Last updateTue, 22 Oct 2019 12am







    Sunday, October 20, 2019-9:33:07A.M.






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House minority: Investigate government finances

THE House minority bloc on Tuesday proposed the creation of a bipartisan special investigative committee that will conduct an oversight on the government’s financial crisis.

In a joint letter, House Minority Leader Edwin Propst, Reps. Tina Sablan, Richard Lizama, Sheila Babauta, Donald Manglona and Edmund Villagomez asked Speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao to conduct oversight “and inquire into the decisions and circumstances that brought us to this point of crisis, and at the same time propose reasonable measures to raise revenues for public services and avert the devastating downward spiral that austerity cuts create.”

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House Minority Leader Edwin Propst and Rep. Richard Lizama walk past Rep. Ralph N. Yumul while Rep. Sheila Babauta, Rep. Edmund Villagomez and Rep. Tina Sablan, partly hidden. confer during a break from the House session on Tuesday.  Photo by Emmanuel T. Erediano

The Commonwealth is in crisis, the minority bloc members said.

“Public services and employees are reeling from erratic, possibly illegal and disproportionate austerity measures. The administration has failed to provide this body, and the people we represent, with a full and detailed accounting of our current fiscal state and how we got here. We still have no idea how much money we have to operate this government for the rest of the fiscal year. We don’t know how much longer austerity measures will continue, or if they might worsen. And this administration has not delivered any credible plan to move us forward,” the minority bloc stated.

“The people of the Marianas are crying out for legislative oversight. They want answers. They want the truth. We cannot continue to ignore them. Regardless of party affiliation, as legislators we have a duty to investigate allegations of executive abuses and mismanagement, and take action to ensure transparency and accountability.

“The urgency to hold an oversight has not subsided and at this point, is even greater than before.

“We now propose to establish a bipartisan special investigative committee to conduct a thorough inquiry into the present fiscal crisis: to hold hearings and interview witnesses under oath, to review and analyze records and decisions made, and report back to this body on their findings and recommend actions.”

The minority bloc members said they also stand ready to work with the leadership and the administration to support “reasonable and equitable measures to resolve the present crisis.”

Rep. Tina Sablan said she is also introducing House Local Bill 21-23 which will impose a 10 percent gambling revenue tax in the Third Senatorial District.

She and the other minority bloc members said they are also working on a bill to restrict the ability of a taxpayer to claim tax credits for gambling loans; and to clarify that jackpot taxes apply to winnings in all gaming establishments, with no exemptions.

They also vowed to support “a modest” increase in excise taxes provided that exceptions are made for food, medicines and other essential goods.

They said they oppose the issuance of a pension obligation bond and raising taxes on fuel.

In addition, they are proposing a rollback in the salary increases that went into effect last year for the governor, the lt. governor, mayors and cabinet members.

“Audit the community chest fund, and enforce distributions owed pursuant to the casino license agreement since last year, as well as the $20 million owed by Imperial Pacific International in October of this year. Ensure that these moneys are directed to the Settlement Fund, the Public School System, Northern Marianas College, the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation, and the payment of obligations to the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation; and

“Audit overtime payments that were authorized during the Typhoon Mangkhut and Typhoon Yutu response, and recover any and all funds that were unlawfully paid out to cabinet members or other officials not entitled to overtime.”

According to the minority bloc, “this is by no means an exhaustive list of the actions and remedies we would support. We are open and ready to work with the majority to identify other solutions as well.”