Saipan Mayor David M. Apatang doesn’t support a House bill that would amend the casino law to dedicate the entire casino license fee for the retirees’ pension reduction, saying the funds should be made available instead to specific improvement projects for Saipan.
House Bill 19-21, introduced by Rep. Blas Jonathan T. Attao (Ind-Saipan), will amend Public Law 18-56 to increase the retirees’ share of the funds coming from casino license payments.
“The proposed amendments will transform the law from its current form as a source of funds for more than one purpose into a single purpose, and eliminate others that we know heavily rely on the funds to be able to deliver and perform various services to the public,” Apatang said.
He said if the source of funds is compared to a machine giving life support to a variety of purposes, the legislation would unplug the machine.
“By using this rhetorical analogy, we only wish that it remains an unfailing encouragement upon us that we perform our duty to try and find a balance when resources are or become very scarce. We believe the draft legislation is a soft way of saying ‘Let’s pull the plug,’” he added.
Best Sunshine International, Ltd. recently paid $5 million as partial payment for the second year of its long-term casino, with another $10 million on the way.
Apatang said the funds currently available to the CNMI government and the local delegation for appropriation is much needed for public improvement projects and delivery of services, among others, that will ultimately protect the community’s safety, health, and welfare.
“By eliminating the source of funds…the municipal government will be sent back to picking up crumbs here and there. We have to remember that P.L. 18-56 is still a measure that jeopardizes the other current substantial source of funds for the municipal government such as the poker and pachinko license fees,” Apatang said.
He pointed out that since April 2, 2015, no new or additional poker and pachinko licenses can be issued and that will impact revenue collection at the municipal level.
“Of course, we can take comfort for now that a licensed casino will operate poker and pachinko machines in the premises described in and authorized by PL 18-56, but we would rather speculate on the casino floor than here. Until a licensed casino actually operates poker and pachinko machines, we must be wary of the potential impact the bill will have on municipal level sources of funds at this time,” he said.
He believes the bill is good, but also believes the timing for amending PL 18-56 is not now.
“We hope the NMI Legislature gives the law more time to be tested, to be proven, to be measured, and studied. We hope they remain sensitive to the fact that many more people depend on what we do and can do to improve their livelihood, health, safety, moral, and welfare,” he said.