AS CNMI ECONOMY PLUMMETS
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres has reached out to President Donald J. Trump to notify him of the impending crisis that the CNMI is about to face, as a result of the dramatic reduction in tourist arrivals following the coronavirus outbreak.
In a letter to Trump yesterday, Torres informed the President of the near-complete reduction in the number of flights from South Korea, following the loss of the Chinese tourism market, as fear of the virus spreads throughout the region.
“In total, the loss of the two largest markets in the CNMI’s sole industry should be considered as the unequivocal and complete collapse of the foundations of our private sector on the islands. With the collapse of the drivers of private industry, government revenue and the services of government will soon struggle to remain operational,” Torres said.
Attributing the current fragile state of the Commonwealth to a tumultuous past and federal regulations, one thing remains clear, Torres said: “the economy, and the government’s ability to maintain public services, are deeply in trouble.”
Torres said the CNMI is currently anticipating total government budget falling as low as $90 million.
“If the CNMI were to add its mandatory obligations to bond holders, the federally-administered pension fund, and the Public School System, the CNMI government is potentially left with less than $20 million to run a government for a population of 53,000 people,” the governor said. “To add perspective, the recently amended budget for fiscal year 2020 provided the Executive Branch alone $36 million.”
The limited funding that would remain from this contraction in the economy, according to Torres, would be used to pay for police officers and vehicles, as well as for the local matching share of the Medicaid and CHIP programs.
It will also be used to pay to support hospital needs, to maintain the Judiciary and Legislature, to pay utilities of government facilities, and to protect the wellbeing of the community and the environment.
The governor also informed the President of steps the CNMI is doing to address the situation, which include consolidating departments, reviewing government workforce needs, shifting government policy, and sheltering as much as possible the critical services needed for public safety.
“I cannot stress the existential concerns that have arisen as a result of the present outbreak to the CNMI. Due to tourism being our sole remaining industry, there is no community in the United States more affected by this global crisis than the CNMI,” Torres added.
The governor also appealed to the President to designate a member of his staff that the CNMI can communicate consistently as the government tries to resolve the situation.
While recognizing that the “data does not present cause for much optimism,” the governor assured the President that he will do all that he can to ensure the CNMI does not fail in its efforts to be productive members of the American community.
The CNMI, being close to the epicenter of the COVD-19 outbreak, remains at the forefront of the threat. To date, there has been no recorded case of the virus on the island.
Read Torres’ letter here: View Document