IF one is an elected official, there are at least two ways to approach the CNMI’s IPI quandary. The first is to resort to demagoguery and/or grandstanding which is extremely popular in certain echo chambers, especially online. The second is to actually take one’s job as a public official seriously, and study, consult and think before speaking about the subject. But that won’t elicit “likes” on online discussion boards.
For the more thoughtful CNMI officials, the main problem with IPI is not casino gaming or even IPI itself. It’s the CNMI government’s ability to meet its ongoing financial obligations to the (voting) public: specifically, retirees and their families, government employees and their families, medical patients and their families, students and their parents.
Some may still remember that the revenue IPI provided not so long ago paid for a lot of the CNMI’s pressing obligations, specifically the federal-court-mandated payments to the Settlement Fund. That, in turn, allowed the CNMI government to provide more funding to PSS, NMC, public health, etc.
Some may also remember that the Saipan casino legislation was passed not once but twice, and its proponents ran on an explicitly pro-casino platform in the 2014 elections. They were elected with huge majorities after promising — among other things — that the Saipan casino would end the islands’ pension fund crisis. And that’s exactly what happened, as the Settlement Fund trustee and a federal judge themselves have acknowledged.
But then we had Yutu and a global pandemic both of which aggravated IPI’s mostly self-created legal and other woes.
So what’s next? Not for IPI (the courts will have to sort that out), but for the CNMI government’s Settlement Fund obligations — about $40 million a year, an amount that is over 40% of the projected local revenue for government appropriations in FY 2021.
Once the ARPA funds are spent, and with the tourism industry still groping its way to recovery, can the CNMI continue paying the Settlement Fund payments without the re-imposition of austerity measures that could be more severe if the local economy continues to decline?
That should be a terrific and timely topic for a legislative committee hearing, but it seems that many lawmakers would rather talk about something else.
TWO of the islands’ prominent citizens passed away last week: Ivan A. Blanco and Samuel F. McPhetres.
The Republican leader of the House, Representative Blanco was a shoo-in for the Senate in next year’s elections. Early this year, as vice chairman of the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation, he asked his colleagues to help revive the economy “because that is the way to serve our people better.” He wasn’t an orator, and he would rather do things than just talk about them. Lately, he and some of his colleagues had been cleaning up parks, sports facilities and tourist sites as part of the preparations for the re-opening of the islands’ only industry, tourism.
Always affable and reliably level-headed, he could work with anyone regardless of party affiliation. The NMI needs more elected officials like him.
If you’re a serious student of NMI history, its government and politics, then you have read an article, essay or book written by Samuel F. McPhetres. An outstanding educator, historian and author, he was known for — among many other things — offering his opinion only when he knew what he was talking about. Those were the days indeed.