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Variations | News so old it’s new

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MARIANAS Variety’s top story on Jan. 9, 1981 — the year’s first issue — was pretty grim:

“Running Out of Funds: NMI Pension System in Jeopardy”

MV quoted the Retirement Fund administrator as saying that “unless the Legislature acts quickly, more than 100 government retirees will not get their pension checks this month…. Only about $20,000 [worth about $57,000 today] is left from NMI contributions to pay out approximately $38,500 [about $110,000 today] in pensions checks…. It’s a big mess,” the administrator added. He cited actuary studies indicating that even if $500,000 (about $1.4 million today) was allocated, “the money will run out by early May.”

In the CNMI House of Representatives, a bill was introduced to raise taxes on wages and business gross receipts as well as on several commodities such as alcoholic beverages, cosmetics, gasoline and diesel fuel. The goal was to “cut some of the $6.2 million [about $17.76 million today] deficit in the House-passed budget. However, since the measure “would only apply to two quarters this fiscal year, only about half of the red ink would be wiped out…and some spending trims must be undertaken to gain a balanced budget which now calls for the expenditure of $45 million” which is about $128.9 million today.

One lawmaker said the government should also “decrease its spending in such areas as travel,” and “put a freeze on recruitment, restrict reprogramming, establish department employment ceilings and…economize.”

Also on the front-page:

“Health Fees to Rise Next Month”

The idea, a hospital consultant told Variety, “was to get a fee schedule that represents 15-20% of costs and increase it each year 15-20%.”

At the Dr. Torres Hospital, nurses said they were planning to walk out “any time.” The spokeswoman of the nurses union said the big issue was their salary. “The nurses acknowledge that the hospital administration has been responsive to other complaints, such as shortage of supplies, and is doing what it can to rectify them. But there has been no action on the pay issue.” The nurses said they had met with the governor and lawmakers but, according to the CNMI officials, there was no money. The nurses’ spokeswoman said “the walk-out is something we have to do. It’s cruel — some patients are our own families — but it’s the only way to do it.”

According to MV, the hospital administration had “formulated contingency plans in the event of a strike,” and it involved “a skeleton staff of those who can’t walk out, which include contract employees and new hires on probation.” Moreover, “recently retired nurses would be asked to come back, and all who remain would be asked to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week. In addition, as many patients as possible would be discharged and critical cases may be transferred to Guam….”

In his weekly column, MV’s editor stated: “It pays to work for the government. NMI employees will get their third Friday off in a row this week to help celebrate Commonwealth Day. Previously they were given administrative leave for the day after Christmas and New Year.”

Also: “It seems to become harder and harder to enter Beach Road from a side street during the morning rush hour. A long line of traffic stops and goes all the way from the Microl intersection to Civic Center from about 7:30 to 8:15 a.m. which makes me wonder if anyone gets to work on time….”

A House member, for his part, complained about the “many expatriate government employees [i.e., statesiders who] are here on a one-year paid vacation rather than solving the problems of the Commonwealth.” He added, “Too many are being brought over and then they do nothing.”

Meanwhile, in the CNMI Senate, a resolution was introduced calling for the “recovery of deficit funds” from the governor, his planning and budget affairs officer, and finance director. The resolution accused the administration of “gross mismanagement of public funds, financial imprudence and possible violations of the law.”

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