The chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee yesterday warned legislators against derailing a key legislation appropriating funds under the capital improvement projects, saying the measure has to be in place as soon as possible to help spur the local economy.
Rep. Karl T. Reyes, who sponsored the House bill that will set in motion millions of dollars in CIP funds on the island, maintained the projects outlined in the measure are those considered priority in the master plan that was drafted for more than six months by the government last year.
“The longer we hold it back, the more problem it creates,” Reyes said in an interview, reacting to reports that his bill may be amended in the Senate after the House has passed it in its entirety.
Senate Vice President Thomas P. Villagomez earlier has said he would seek amendment in the bill to transfer funding from various village youth center project into a road improvement project in San Vicente. Senate Floor leader Pete P. Reyes, meanwhile, has vowed to rush its passage.
Close to $23 million will be set aside for several CIP-funded projects, including a new prison and a new landfill in Marpi, which local leaders hope will help revitalize the slowing economy of the CNMI.
The bill is the first step to set in motion the recently drafted CIP master plan that has identified 50 priority projects on Saipan, Rota and Tinian at a cost of $154 million in both federal and commonwealth funds up to year 2002.
According to the Ways and Means committee head, administration officials and some members of the legislature met over six months to finalize the plan.
“Nobody should come individually and alter the whole plan because you think that you are smarter than the others,” Reyes explained. “We must learn to work as a team.”
He warned that businessmen are getting “frustrated” over the lack of economic activities on the island in the wake of the prolonged recession in Asia, NMI’s main tourism market and source of investments.
“(The bill) has to be expedited, pushed and supported by the legislature because we need to see some form of a government program that will generate activities in the CNMI,” the representative said.
A project in San Vicente, including expansion and paving of Nan Rocha road, has been delayed for the past several years due to lack of funds, according to Villagomez who has said he still needs to weigh the other projects included in the first batch. .
The island government has come under fire in the last three years for failure to set aside funding for CIP as provided in the matching requirement agreement — a move that has prompted White House to slash 51 percent from its grants for the next fiscal year.