Reps. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan) and Joseph Palacios (R-Saipan) want the Saipan Chamber of Commerce to reveal the identities of Chamber members who participated in an online survey on a proposal to legalize casino gambling on Saipan. The Chamber is not commenting on the issue yet.
Only 45 of the 150 Chamber members took part in the online survey.
Of the 45 respondents, 60 percent or 27 Chamber members voted against casino gaming on Saipan, while 40 percent or 18 were in favor of it.
Torres and Palacios, in their letter to Chamber president Douglas Brennan and executive director Richard Pierce, said that while public and Chamber opinions are productive when properly conducted, “the lack of transparency in your survey respondents is not only disturbing, but hypocritical at best.”
The lawmakers said if the Chamber does not wish to provide the names of the respondents within a week, “then please advise us of your justification for hiding behind the self-serving cloak of anonymity.”
A local casino bill is now on the governor’s desk, but the governor has yet to act on it.
Palacios pointed out that Chamber members will be among those that will benefit from a casino on Saipan because the industry will need a lot of things—from food catering, to drinks, furniture, among other things.
“They should be pro-business, not anti-business,” he said.
Palacios reiterated that the Chamber could also pool their money together to build a mall on Saipan. “Residents and tourists go to the mall. The Chamber should look into that. The Legislature only passes laws, but the private sector also has the responsibility to do something to help the economy,” he added.
In other news, the Chamber said it “strongly opposes” House Bill 17-217, seeking to reduce rebate tax.
The largest business organization in the CNMI said this is an attempt to appropriate funding for the NMI Retirement Fund through additional tax burden on the working population.
“It is the responsibility of the CNMI government to fund the NMI Retirement Fund, not through increased taxation, but by controlling costs. Why must the working employees be forced to bail out the NMI Retirement Fund at additional expense to them?” Brennan said in a letter to House minority leader Joseph Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan), author of the bill.
Brennan said the bill erodes the very basis for the CNMI economy’s growth, and will further the exodus of business and consumers if it is enacted.
“There was a time when a $100-million CNMI government budget was sufficient to fund its operations. There are tremendous amounts of federal government funding sources that did not exist in the CNMI 25 years ago. Why can’t the CNMI government reduce its costs to the point where additional taxation on the working people of the CNMI, and businesses, is not necessary,” Brennan said.
He also said the Chamber believes the logical place to begin reducing government expenditures “starts right at the 17th Northern Mariana Islands Legislature.”