In his first State of the Commonwealth Address, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres highlighted the CNMI’s economic gains but also focused on the challenges the Commonwealth is currently facing and other problems that might arise.
Torres delivered the address in a joint session of the 20th CNMI Legislature at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center last Friday, during which he also submitted his budget plan of $236.7 million for fiscal year 2018 to the lawmakers. This is a $24.1-million increase compared to the more than $200 million proposed for the 2017 fiscal year.
Torres, who was interrupted 49 times by applause, touched on every achievement—from the Inos administration to his own—since CNMI experienced its lowest economic point—a -17.5 percent gross domestic product in 2009.
“I would like to ask you all to take just a moment now and remember where we were only a few short years ago. If we honestly think back, the CNMI was seriously hurting and in the midst of a deep and persistent economic depression,” said Torres. “At the height of the CNMI’s economic decline in 2009, the Commonwealth suffered a reduction in GDP by 17.5 percent. Our tourism industry was struggling with low number of arrivals. Revenue was at record lows. High gas prices. Rolling blackouts. And both large and small businesses were struggling.”
Things, however, have taken a dramatic and positive turn, with CNMI tourism—the Commonwealth’s core industry—slowly increasing, coupled with investor confidence.
“Businesses are regaining their footing. New restaurants have opened. Unemployment has been dropping and there’s an increased feeling of financial security and inclusion within our community,” said Torres.
The important thing now, he said, is to develop and sustain the CNMI’s economy.
“To me, the path ahead for our economy has its greatest measure in the homes and around the dinner tables of all families living in our community,” said Torres. “What matters most to me is that we focus our efforts to help the parents who sit there late into the night shaking their heads, filled with stress over how to pay their bills and provide enough food on that table to feed the family.”
He said that he also hear what some people say that the CNMI should be cautious in reaching too high and too fast. “To those who question the benefits of economic growth, I wish to offer you briefly some information which shows why growth is important.”
Torres said the CNMI’s major infrastructures needs improvement in order to support the economic development. He said he is committed to have new and more efficient generators and the pursuit of alternative energy sources like solar power. The new gaming industry also needs to be carefully implemented in phases, he said.
Another concern is the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., from its finances to personnel.
Torres said substance abuse is also a major health concern. He said he has made the war on ice an important part of his administration.
Curbing illegal immigration is also on Torres’ list of top priorities. “To be clear, the practice of bringing in workers under the disguise of tourists will harm the overall economy and it will not be tolerated.”
“Working with the Legislature and the federal government, the CNMI not only condemns this action, but we will put forward the resources to penalize those who threaten to harm our progress.”
“If you exploit workers in the CNMI, if you threaten our economy, if you put at risk the many families relying on our success we will stop you. ..We will cancel flights and reduce tourists arrivals if I have to because this is our government and our islands.”