Here’s  a way out

WITHOUT studying it or conducting a public hearing and soliciting comments, Saipan lawmakers passed a local measure, now S.L.L. 22-6, which they claimed would “raise” revenue for this bloated, overspending and overpaid government.

Among the lawmakers who supported the bill were the “champions” of transparency — those who promised to conduct public hearings and “report to constituents” before acting on legislation. These included lawmakers who used to complain about bills that were “railroaded” or “shoved down people’s throats,” or “(insert another handy demagogic cliché here).”

When they were told that the law they passed would result in less revenue and business closures and job losses, what was the lawmakers’ initial reaction?

They doubled down. Then they talked about other things — like how good their intentions were, and how the (non-existent) revenue that would (not) be raised by the bill they (mindlessly) passed would (not) go to students.

“Not ashamed,” as some members of the public would put it.

Happily for those affected by this new law — which the governor should have vetoed — there is still a way to fix it. Lawmakers can and should repeal S.L.L. 22-6 and reintroduce a new bill that will raise additional revenue without shutting down businesses and putting people out of jobs.

Lawmakers, you don’t need to admit that you were dead wrong. Yes we still believe in the pureness of your hearts, etc. But please listen to Judge Govendo. Consult with the affected businesses. Have pity on the workers who will be unemployed because of your rash and irresponsible action. Draft a new bill. Conduct public hearings. And then pass an actual revenue-generating measure.

Another fool’s errand

NOW some may say that it’s “OK” that e-gaming businesses are shutting down and their employees are losing their jobs because gambling is “bad for the community” anyway. Well, if that’s the real reason for passing S.L.L. 22-6, then lawmakers should say so.

And if they’re truly concerned about the “welfare of the community,” then why stop at e-gaming? What about poker arcades? Casino gaming?

And what about alcohol, tobacco, sweetened beverages and junk food? What about processed meat and rice? Betel nuts?

Can you imagine the resulting public outcry if any politician would dare propose a ban or higher fees or taxes on popular food items or betel nuts?

But in the case of businesses that, apparently, do not have enough political connections, and who employ about 70 employees only, and who are most likely not related to a lot of voters — politicians can courageously assert their “moral values.”

However, they did not “strike a blow” against gambling when they passed S.L.L. 22-6. What they did is to shut down businesses, put people out of work, and reduce government revenue,

Without e-gaming establishments, regular gamblers will gamble instead at poker arcades or somewhere else. Do lawmakers know that untaxed (that is, illegal) gambling activities are occurring on island? Are they aware of humanity’s experience with laws that prohibit gambling?

“Bans don’t work,” Michelle Minton wrote for the New York Times in 2014. “More than 70 million Americans gamble each year and nearly 90 percent self-reported that they have gambled once in their lifetime. The activity has been around since recorded history and almost every state has a lottery or casinos. These facts combined with the uncontrollable nature of the Internet make a ban impossible. The result of an attempted ban, as we have seen, is that gamblers go underground. This means that American citizens could not appeal to the government in the case that they are victimized — the actual purpose of government.”

S.L.L 22-6 will not generate additional revenue, and it will not “curtail” gambling. What it will do is reduce government revenue, drive  gamblers to other gambling venues, and inflict hardship on 70 private sector employees and their families amid this unrelenting economic downturn.

Some say that if these businesses can’t pay their taxes then they should shut down.

But they are paying the mandated fees and taxes. Their problem is that the government wants them to pay a lot more even though times are hard and all businesses are hurting.

Again, can you imagine elected officials making the same (outrageous) demand for more money from other businesses while the islands’ only industry remains in a coma and Covid-19 is still on a rampage?

Incidentally, lawmakers (especially those who like to proclaim that they “control the public purse”), you don’t need to pass “revenue generating” bills if you would just reduce the costs of running this bloated, overspending and overpaid government.

Editor

Zaldy Dandan is the recipient of the Best Editorial Writer Award of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the CNMI Humanities Award for Outstanding Contributions to Journalism. His three books are available on amazon.com

comments powered by Disqus