The Saipan Chamber of Commerce has identified the reduction in Business Gross Revenue Tax or Excise Tax or other government fees as the means with which the CNMI government can provide the most financial relief to local businesses at this time.
This comes soon after the Chamber did a survey among local businesses about the impact of COVID-19, with 57% of responders saying that a tax break would be the best relief they can get at this time. Armed with this information, Chamber president Velma M. Palacios and the Chamber board of directors asked Gov. Ralph DLG Torres last week to provide financial relief for businesses through a reduction in BGRTs, Excise Tax, or government fees. This step, they said, would show that the CNMI government cares about their plight.
“As indicated in our survey responses, businesses are desperately in need of financial relief, and there have been no local relief efforts that show businesses that the government cares about their ability to survive,” Palacios said.
To help encourage more businesses to stay open, the Chamber proposes that the CNMI government either reduce the BGRT or excise taxes, or minimize government fees for the remainder of 2020. “While we understand the government may have to make additional cuts or operate at a loss, our economy has a better chance of rebounding post-COVID-19 with these reductions now, rather than trying to build up new businesses to replace those that have closed. Support from the CNMI Legislature and individual government agencies is needed to provide this relief and send the message to the businesses that the CNMI government wants them to fight to stay open,” she said.
Additionally, Palacios also proposed that the government focus on local commerce for the remainder of 2020 because there is not a clear message that it is safe for them to resume operations that encourage local commerce within the community.
“At a time when we are unsure about when international flights will resume, we must do all we can to ensure residents feel confident they can safely resume their normal operations,” Palacios said.
Some of the Chamber’s suggestions include removal of some restrictions while in Vulnerability Level Blue that interfere with commerce. This includes curfew, removal of restrictions that allow businesses to operate as long as they adhere to social distancing and safety measures, and removing measures regarding public parks and beaches that are not being enforced to the same degree businesses are monitored for enforcement.
The Chamber also suggests encouraging more types of outreach that explain current quarantine measures because the current confusion is keeping residents at home rather than frequenting safe establishments that keep local dollars stimulating the economy.
Another Chamber suggestion is for the government to provide more consistent information to businesses about the resumption of international travel as this would help them make key business decisions that affect their everyday operations.
Lastly, the Chamber also proposed that the government seek external funding for business financing programs.
“As seen in our survey results, many businesses have not been able to access the capital needed to help carry them through the current economic downturn. We understand that the CNMI government is not in a position to offer grant programs for businesses, as was available in both Guam and Hawaii. However, we ask that you direct the appropriate government agencies to apply for funding opportunities that can help stimulate economic growth,” Palacios said.