Hope and spare change
SINCE Yutu and Covid-19, the CNMI government’s most pressing concern is lack of funding. The local economy is shrinking. What’s left of it is not generating the amount of revenue that the government must collect. As for the government’s annual budget, take note that it is largely based on projections — on what the government hopes to collect. So when the FY 2021 budget indicates that, for example, PSS has been allotted $24.1 million in the fiscal year, what it means is that the government is hoping it can collect that amount for PSS in FY 2021.
The appropriations for CNMI government entities, in other words, aren’t set in stone. However, there are obligations that the Commonwealth must meet regardless of its financial condition. We’re talking about the federal-court-mandated payments to the Settlement Fund, bond payments, medical referrals, emergency/disaster response. Next in importance: government payroll and fuel for CUC’s power plants.
The federal government, to be sure, is expected to approve a massive “rescue plan” that may include over half-a-billion dollars for the CNMI, and that’s terrific news. But a federal stimulus and relief package is not a permanent source of funding — especially for the CNMI’s ongoing, seemingly never-ending annual (and/or quarterly) obligations.
The CNMI government must have a more dependable local revenue source. It must find ways to improve the local economy — or persuade a majority of voters that returning to how things were during the Trust Territory days (total dependence on federal assistance and government jobs that didn’t pay much, but there were other federal handouts, including food from the USDA, and a World War II-era power barge) is the way to go.
IT seems that not a lot of elected officials, lawmakers included, want to acknowledge how CNMI government revenue depends on the state of the local economy. But they want to talk about other things which they believe are more pressing concerns.
They will, for example, talk about a cart, and its design, and how comfortable it should be, and the proper size of its wheels, and why the cart-driver’s food, which should be healthy, of course, should not be served in a foam container placed in a plastic bag, etc., etc.
No one wants to talk about the condition of the poor horse that has to pull the cart and bring its passengers to where they want to go. If someone finally remembers the horse’s existence, then the discussion will be on how the cart should be placed before the horse.
Try to listen to what most lawmakers are saying about the government’s financial crisis and the economic downturn. Most of the “solutions” involve imposing more costs on businesses, consumers, taxpayers — or further increasing the cost of government. They want to put the cart before the horse…to speed things up.
What can actually help improve the economy
TRIPLE J has opened three new business establishments on Tinian. Reputable companies taking risks and investing in the Commonwealth — they are what the CNMI needs. Hence, sensible government officials should ask themselves: what can the government do to encourage more new investments?
In contrast to the CNMI Department of Commerce, which shamelessly wants to collect more and higher fees from businesses that are already struggling, the Commonwealth Ports Authority is making it a bit easier for its tenants — business establishments that employ people — to remain afloat. That’s the ticket.
Also to be commended are the administration, the private sector, community groups and lawmakers who are cleaning up and/or maintaining tourist sites and public parks. A peaceful Commonwealth of community-oriented volunteers of all ages who are maintaining their island’s cleanliness by doing what can be done instead of just whining and/or finger-pointing. That’s the CNMI.
More good news for the local economy: the announcement that major road repair and construction projects will start this year.
Memo to policy-makers: stick to what doesn’t make things worse; do no further harm.