The House of Representatives moved yesterday to appropriate the $15.5 million casino license renewal fee to several government agencies, but with stringent reporting requirements and a promise to pay back the local delegations that were supposed to get the money in the first place.
With a vote of 16-0, the House unanimously agreed yesterday to reallocate the $15.5 million that Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC paid to renew its casino license fee.
As outlined in Rep. Ivan A. Blanco’s (R-Saipan) House Bill 21-78, HS1, the money would be divided among the following: $1 million each to the Rota Legislative Delegation and Tinian and Aguiguan Legislative Delegation; $3 million to the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation; $1 million to the NMI Settlement Fund; $3 million to the Public School System; $1 million to the Northern Marianas College; $500,000 to the Commonwealth Health Care Corp.; $1 million to the Marianas Visitors Authority; and the remaining $4 million for outstanding vendor payments incurred following Super Typhoon Yutu.
The bill would require the Finance secretary to submit to legislative officers a “detailed expenditure report” on the allocation of funds within 30 days of any distribution. The report shall include the dates of payment, the agencies or vendors paid to each agency or vendor, and the balances still owed, if any, to each agency of vendor.
Further, the legislation, if enacted, will mandate the Finance secretary to certify to the Legislature the availability of any additional collections above projected resources for fiscal year 2020 or other funds in the future to satisfy the mandate of Public Law 20-10.
P.L. 20-10, the legislation that splits the casino license renewal fee between the local delegations, will be repaid in the future through this provision. P.L. 20-10 mandates that the Saipan delegation will get $9.5 million as its share of the IPI renewal fee, while both the Tinian and Rota delegations would get $2 million each.
The Department of Finance initially made the recommendation on how the IPI fee would be redirected and appropriated, but House Speaker Blas Jonathan “BJ” Attao (R-Saipan) told Saipan Tribune that the strict reporting requirements were not in the original recommendations.
Rep. Joel Camacho (R-Saipan) recognized the work of the House of Representatives to subdivide the money. Same with Rep. Edwin K. Propst (Ind-Saipan) and Rep. Tina Sablan (Ind-Saipan), who pointed out that it was “rare” to see both the majority and minority agreeing with each other.
“…I want to thank the members…for the changes made on this bill to safeguard the people,” Propst said, referring to Blanco’s substitute legislation that was also unanimously carried. “This is a true product of bipartisanship and us working together and communicating effectively. …My conscience is clear and I can vote yes on it now.”
“It is so rare that we can all say that we are in agreement with the majority and the administration…but we do appreciate the leadership…and all of our colleagues in this body on considering and accepting more stringent reporting requirements,” Sablan noted.
The bill now goes to the Senate for adoption.