A conflict may be brewing between administration officials and Saipan legislators over some $1.9 million in revenues anticipated to be earned from the recent 33 percent increase in license fees for poker and pachinko slot machines on the island.
Members of the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation apparently are hoping to set aside the money for the operations and personnel costs of the Office of the Mayor as well as for other community programs initiated by local lawmakers.
But the Tenorio administration has identified the poker fees as one source of funds to match federal money provided under the Capital Improvement Projects in a bid to push infrastructure development and help spur the island economy.
A bill to be introduced by House Vice Speaker Jesus T. Attao in a session by the delegation today will earmark proceeds of the new funds to specific programs, which come on the heels of deepening financial crisis of the CNMI government.
Rep. Ana Teregeyo, chair of the SNILD’s Ways and Means committee, said the proposed legislation will be reviewed by the delegation panel before members can vote on it.
She maintained they will weigh the needs of the Saipan mayor’s office and various delegation members with the fund shortage facing the administration of Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio.
“The administration’s concern in trying to identify sources of funding to make up for what we need to match the (CIP) is a legitimate concern,” the legislator told in an interview.
“We are also trying to find ways to raise additional revenues to meet what we need,” she added.
Saipan lawmakers voted last month to raise by $2,000 the license fees for amusement machines in what they hoped would boost government income amid worsening economic crisis in the commonwealth.
At least $1.5 million in additional revenues will be generated from the hike on top of the $6 million that the financially-troubled government has estimated to earn from the fees.
The increase was in line with the lifting of the cap on the number of poker and slot machines on Saipan last year, whose number has swelled from 244 prior to the enactment of the law to 722 in just four months, according to officials.
Tenorio had expected the money to be appropriated for various infrastructure plan under the CIP program of his administration in light of the CNMI failure to meet the matching requirement on federal grants amounting to $77 million.
But a source from the legislature said SNILD appears bent on using the funds to finance ongoing community projects initiated by members following the recent budget cut imposed by the administration.
At least 26.8 percent was slashed from the second quarter allotment to the legislature — a level which lawmakers fear will affect operations and halt programs for their constituents.
According to the source, members feel that setting aside the money for the activities of the delegation may help them at this election year when they need to complete programs aimed at their respective communities.
While mum on the criticism, Teregeyo pointed out that they will try to accommodate several requests for appropriation.
“We cannot appropriate more than what we could collect. If we take into consideration the governor’s concern in earmarking part of that revenues for CIP, I think we have to do that,” she said.