Senate President Victor B. Hocog (Ind-Rota) said Senate Bill 19-21 does not intend to take away the benefits of retirees, and that the retirees’ needs are still a priority.
Hocog was the sponsor of SB 19-21.
More than 100 petitioners on Wednesday sent a letter to Gov. Eloy S. Inos, asking him to reject the bill.
The petition letter contends that certain amendments in SB 19-21 can be “detrimental to the livelihood of retirees and beneficiaries” who rely solely on retirement benefits.
SB 19-21 proposes to reallocate and transfer $2 million from the license fee paid by casino licensee Best Sunshine International Ltd. to the Rota Municipal Treasury, thus changing the primary objective of the casino law, Public Law 18-56, the petition letter said.
However, Hocog maintained that the intent of SB 19-21 is “to transfer funds allocated for Rota and Tinian to their respective municipal treasury in order to effectively and efficiently manage, control, and account for its funds including the $2 million from Public Law 18-56.”
He explained that “the $2 million allocated to Rota and Tinian each from the casino annual fee was negotiated after the retirement Settlement Fund Agreement was executed by the Executive Branch.”
The $2 million was not part of the Settlement Fund Agreement, Hocog said.
The petition claims that the amendment to reallocate and transfer the $2-million fund to the Rota Municipal Treasurer changes the primary objective of PL 18-56 and this amendment deletes the mandate to pay the retirees first, as mandated by PL 18-56.
“When the casino bill was being negotiated, it was understood that the central government will utilize part of the first $25 million of the initial payment, and $10 million out of the $15 million subsequent annual license fee to cover the retirees’ 25 percent pension. I negotiated the $2 million for the benefit of the municipality and people of Rota, including the retirees from Rota. However, the $2 million was never intended to be used solely for the retirees’ pension cut,” he explained.
Hocog also maintained that “I am cognizant of the needs of the retirees on Rota and I included language in S.B. 19-21 to ensure that the retirees’ needs are satisfied.”
Hocog cited Section 3 of SB 19-21 which “provides that the $2 million shall be transferred to the Rota Municipal Treasury and appropriated by the Rota delegation as follows: (1) supplement of the First Senatorial District’s retirees and beneficiaries’ pension until such time that the Commonwealth government is able to pay the entire obligation; (2) payment of debt service of municipal loans and/or bonds issued by the First Senatorial District; and (3) for any local public purpose.”
Hocog said the Rota retirees’ concerns stated in the petition that was circulated regarding S.B. 19-21 “was based on misinformation and miscommunications.”
The lawmaker also said if there are further questions regarding the matter, retirees or concerned residents are free to contact his office.