Three Senate legislative initiatives seeking to help prolong the NMI Retirement Fund's lifespan beyond two years now have a slim chance of being placed on the Nov. 6 ballot because the House Ways and Means Committee to which they were referred to is not about to make a report-just days before the Aug. 8 deadline for filing legislative initiatives.
But Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) said yesterday the House or its committees can always make last-minute amendments to the initiatives to address their concerns rather than let the measures die, at a time when the Fund is in dire need of financial assistance.
Acting House speaker George Camacho (Ind-Saipan) said yesterday he has yet to check with the committees reviewing the Senate initiatives and bills seeking to help the pension agency.
Camacho confirmed that these measures are not on the agenda of the House's rescheduled session.
Manglona said the House should pass the initiatives to have them placed on the ballot and allow voters to decide on their fate.
The Senate president reminded House Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan) on Monday about the Aug. 8 deadline and the lack of vote on three Fund initiatives and one bill that he describes as “important revenue-generating measures.”
“I further urge the House to review the foregoing Senate initiatives and act on them before Aug. 8, 2012, which is the deadline for the Commonwealth Election Commission to accept legislation to be placed on the ballot at the November 2012 election,” Manglona said in a three-page letter to Cabrera, a copy of which was provided yesterday by the Senate president's office to the media.
Manglona was referring to Senate Legislative Initiative 17-13 Senate Draft 1, SLI 17-14 SD1, SLI 17-15, and Senate Bill 17-93.
The Senate passed these measures last year and they have remained with the House since then.
SLI 17-13 SD1 seeks to transfer the disposition and management decision of public land golf course leases to the Fund, while SLI 17-4 SD1 provides the transfer of funds from the Marianas Public Land Trust to the Fund.
SLI 17-15 seeks to set aside 25 percent of government revenue to pay the government’s employer contribution to the Fund. SB 17-93 designates certain unoccupied public lands and buildings to the Fund for its investment.
The speaker referred the three initiatives to Rep. Ray Basa's (Cov-Saipan) Committee on Ways and Means, and the bill to Rep. Joe Palacios' (R-Saipan) Committee on Natural Resources.
Basa, in an interview yesterday, said he has yet to see Manglona's letter to the speaker but that any major plan to help the Fund should not be unilaterally decided by one chamber or just by one branch.
“The committee looked at the three initiatives and felt that they have major impact. For example, setting aside 25 percent of the government budget to the Fund-the committee finds it impractical. The [initiatives] have wide-ranging impacts,” Basa said.
He said the Ways and Means Committee will have a meeting on Monday, and he will bring up the matter with members.
Basa said as of yesterday, the committee does not have any report or formal recommendation to the full House on what to do with the initiatives.
Cabrera, who has been off -island since June, earlier told reporters that the Senate legislative initiatives are not likely to help solve the Fund's problems.
But Manglona, in his letter, said the first two measures provide benefits to stimulate the economy and a constitutional mechanism by which government obligations are directly paid to the Fund.
The 99-year lease provision for golf courses in SLI 17-13 is an economic incentive and a response to public outcry for the creation of economic opportunities in the CNMI, Manglona said.
“If not these measures, what other options do we have to save the Retirement Fund? We have run out of money. There is no money in the general fund to give Retirement. Maybe if we pass these initiatives and other revenue generating measures the Fund can be rehabilitated. As I stated in my letter dated Nov. 15, 2011, to you and our colleagues at the Legislature, we need to think outside the box,” Manglona told Cabrera.
'Measures could be amended'
Manglona said with regard to MPLT's concerns on SLI 17-14 SD1, a simple amendment could be inserted to restrict the use of the funds to investment or pension payouts. The measure redirects MPLT interest income from the general fund to the Fund.
“Further, SLI 17-14 can be amended to change the quarterly distribution to an annual distribution as recommended by MPLT,” he added.
The Senate president said if the language is embedded in the NMI Constitution, “there will be no discretion among legislators as to the appropriation of such funds,” making sure they automatically go to the Fund.
Over 6,000 retired and non-retired members and beneficiaries are dependent on the Fund's survival. Including their family members, the number could be close to 20,000 people dependent on the Fund's survival.
Manglona also said SB 17-13 creates economic potential for the Fund by authorizing the Fund to lease golf courses for 99 years for at least $50 million, whereas current golf course leases run from 15 to 40 years, depending if new or extended.
“If golf course leases were for 99 years, [the] Retirement Fund could potentially gain tens of millions of dollars.Subsequently, this economic activity and jobs will generate new taxes and revenue for the CNMI. However, if the 99-year lease is too long, the initiative can be amended to reflect a shorter lease term,” the Senate president told the House speaker.
Manglona also said an amendment could easily be made to restrict the use of the funds for pension payouts only.