The ongoing delay of the 25 percent pension payments to CNMI retirees now shifts to the hands of Saipan lawmakers who have scheduled an emergency session today, Tuesday, to appropriate money from annual casino license fees allocated to Saipan to pay this pension.
The Department of Finance had asked the local delegation last month for some $1.8 million, “preferably from the Annual License Fees paid to the Commonwealth as mandated by the Exclusive Gaming License and allocated to the” Saipan, according to a letter from Finance Secretary Larissa Larson to Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation chair John Paul Sablan (R-Saipan) last Jan. 15.
Finance’s standing request was made nearly a month before the Settlement Fund returned a check last Friday from the administration of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres to pay the scheduled retiree pension, leaving thousands of retirees bereft of their expected payments.
The appropriation—set to be made today—is hoped to resolve the ongoing delay that has incited a blame game between Capitol Hill officials and a Settlement Fund that has questioned Torres’ constitutional right to reprogram money for retirees on the basis that this serves no “public purpose.”
The Fund is asking for an “authorized appropriation.”
“[Fund Trustee Joyce] Tang’s argument that the 25 percent is not deemed a public purpose is as it pertains to the governor’s reprogramming authority under the budget law,” Rep. Angel Demapan (R-Saipan) told Saipan Tribune yesterday.
Tang, according to a January letter to the governor, believes that Saipan was no longer in “a state of emergency” following Typhoon Soudelor last August, and declared that the most recent executive order extending Torres’ emergency powers to reprogram money “is not appropriate.”
“As for the 75 percent funds, those are funds appropriated within the general fund budget annually,” Demapan went on to clarify, in responding to questions from Saipan Tribune in an email yesterday
“The 25 percent portion of retirees’ pensions is appropriated by the SNILD through delegation funds sourced by the annual license fee,” Demapan added.
The emergency delegation session today is at 1:30pm.
The delegation would be addressing the issue of funding for payment of 25 percent percent of pensions for retirees, Demapan said.
“The non-payment of retirees’ 25 percent last week stemmed as a result of disagreements between the administration and the Settlement Fund regarding the use of funds provided,” Demapan said. “In view of developments from Friday’s hearing in District Court, it is important for the delegation to convene an emergency session to help rectify this issue and to ensure that retirees’ benefits are not compromised any further.”