With a projection of merely $21 million left to run the entire CNMI government for the rest of the fiscal year, brought by the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 to tourism, the islands’ only industry, the administration is scrambling to cut costs to ensure that services addressing the community’s needs will still be met.
All is not lost, however, especially with the CNMI receiving part of the $2-trillion stimulus money that was made available through the federal government, under the emergency relief package, to help the entire United States deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
House Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao (R-Saipan) is hopeful that the stimulus money coming into the CNMI could help generate economic activity, which would then give the Department of Finance new figures, for a new budget proposal.
“We will get a new budget proposal by July 1,” Attao said in an interview with Saipan Tribune. “I’m not sure how much money is going to be coming to the CNMI or the territories, but any money would definitely infuse economic activity.”
The speaker, as examples, said that people who will get the unemployment payment would have more purchasing power, and that excise taxes can be paid, generating economic activity to an extent, which should help the economy improve.
“On top of that, it would give us additional collections and the additional collections would pipe down into the taxes. Hopefully…a lot of the activities will happen in April, May, June so that the numbers for July can be different, and we may have a different proposal come to life, first from the administration, and we’ll address the budget from there.”
Attao added that the CNMI government still has to be cognizant of the current budget and be very conservative in appropriations of the money and how funds are utilized.
“Whatever money that we can build into the budget in regards to fees, taxes, or whatever other means, that will help generate additional revenues for 2021, and we can actually increase the budget to that extent.”
The House speaker also said that the stimulus package will “definitely assist” in generating economic activity, recognizing that the CNMI might still not have tourists in the next few months.
“Tourism is a very, very big part of our economic lives here in the CNMI, but we also got to be cognizant that there are still people living here, there are still businesses here, so people are spending money and people are running their businesses, and they are paying their taxes.”