The Senate on Friday clarified that the recommendation they made on House Bill 19-52 would not take away money from the NMI Retirement Fund and fund other projects in the CNMI’s three senatorial districts.
Rep. Francis S. Taimanao’s (Ind-Saipan) HB 19-52 earmarks 25 percent of casino gross revenue tax for the payment of all retirees, and includes the Northern Marianas College and the Northern Marianas Trades Institute as additional recipients.
Sen. Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian), as Fiscal Affairs Committee chair, said that some House members may have had an erroneous interpretation of HB 19-52, HD1, SS1 after he made the Senate substitute.
House Speaker Rafael S. Demapan (R-Saipan) had HB 19-52, HD1, SS1 sent back to the House Committee on Ways and Means for further review rather than kill the bill; the 20th CNMI Legislature is expected to act on it. The House, in last week’s session, voted 13-3 to defeat the bill.
“The timing is very critical and we were not able to act on the bill. I suggested it to be sent back to the committee for further review rather than killing it. I don’t want it to be killed and we will revisit the bill in the 20th Legislature. Ways and Means would review it since it involves the distribution of funding,” said Demapan.
Rep. Blas Jonathan T. Attao (Ind-Saipan) was one of the House members that raised concerns on the Senate substitute made by Hofschneider. He said the Senate would take away $15 million from the Retirement Fund to fund other projects in the three senatorial districts.
The Commonwealth Casino Commission requires Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC, the lone casino licensee on Saipan, to pay $15 million annually as part of their BGRT from the gross gaming revenue.
“It is a direct source of funding. If we take that away, we’re going to come back and amend it?
It doesn’t make sense,” said Attao.
Hofschneider said House members only had some misconceptions on the Senate substitute as they had increased the $15 million to $18 million. The Fiscal Affairs Committee’s report would earmark and continuously appropriate the GRT’s first $18 million to cover or supplement the 25 percent payment of all the retirees.
“It is just a misconception and perhaps House members probably misread the Senate substitute. Any report that the Senate substitute takes away money from the Retirement Fund is false. The Senate substitute wants to make sure there would be money for the retirees before everything gets distributed,” added Hofschneider.