Government has to live within ‘pre-casino’ budget, says Finance chief

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FINANCE Secretary David DLG Atalig told lawmakers on Tuesday that the revenue projection for fiscal year 2021 mirrors the financial resources of the CNMI in FY 2011 when there was no casino on Saipan yet.

Last week, Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios submitted to the Legislature a revised FY 2021 budget proposal in the amount of $82.6 million.

The original proposal was $70.6 million, but in the revised budget, Palacios said they suspended the following earmarks: $3.6 million cigarette tax for tobacco control; $497,570, Office of the Public Auditor fees; $195,886, Public School System technical education; $200,000, Revenue and Taxation enforcement; $693,943, cigarette tax for cancer fund; $1.1 million hotel occupancy tax (20%) for the NMI Retirement Fund; $217,542 alcohol container tax for NMIRF; $145,028 alcohol container tax for the Marianas Visitors Authority; $281,300 e-gaming fees for NMIRF defined benefit plan; $1.1 million e-gaming (60%) for NMIRF; $281,300 e-gaming fees (15%) for Saipan; $187,533 e-gaming fees (10%) for Tinian and Rota; and $2.6 million in license fee revenues for Saipan and Tinian.

The suspended earmarks amount to $11.2 million. 

During the budget hearing for the Marianas Visitors Authority on Tuesday, the House Committee on Ways and Means invited the Finance secretary to shed some light on the revision made to the proposed budget.

The MVA budget was reduced to $4.7 million from $10.5 million due to the steep decline in tourism arrivals.  MVA gets its funding mainly from the hotel occupancy tax collections.

Atalig said the CNMI is “back to the days before we even had a casino on Saipan, when we were just rebuilding the economy.”

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, he said, the administration has to make revenue projections based on dwindling tourist arrival numbers.

“This is a precautionary measure, not knowing where we’re at with the Covid-19 pandemic and what could happen next,” he added.




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