15-CENT VIEWERS' TAX STIRS SAIPAN LAWMAKERS

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By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (July 2, 1999 - Saipan Tribune)---Saipan legislators yesterday dilly-dallied on a proposal to repeal a nearly one-year law imposing a 15-cent tax on every rental of video tape and each movie ticket because of opposing views over whether the fee is a burden to consumers.

An initial voting on House Local Bill 11-15 offered by Rep. Heinz S. Hofschneider resulted in a 8-7 against it, but ended in a tie after Senate Floor Leader Pete P. Reyes changed his vote twice, prompting the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation to reconsider the action and continue debate on the issue.

The local legislative body was trying to undo the consequences of Saipan Local Law 11-1, or the Viewers Tax Act of 1998, which was passed during July last year and was signed into law by Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio in less than a month.

A heated debate ensued during the deliberation of the new measure in yesterday's session. The bone of contention between opposing sides was on the impact of the 15 cents added to the video rental and the price of the movie ticket.

Those against the tax believed it was a burden to consumers, especially to parents who have to shell out additional money to pay for their children's entertainment expenses.

But those in favor stressed its benefits to the community, as funds generated from this revenue are intended for the development, construction, maintenance and improvement of all youth centers on the island.

Rep. David M. Apatang, a proponent of the law, argued that it was not "too much" to ask them to cough out 15 cents, saying "if parents want to confront me, I'm ready."

He also criticized a purported petition signed by students on the island to back up Hofschneider's measure, which Apatang claimed might have been conducted "without them knowing what it was all about."

Blame the Legislature

Several video stores on the island have posted notice to their customers that they should blame legislators and not them for the additional fee and a lot of parents have complained to them even right at the shop, lawmakers said during the session.

Hofschneider, who chairs the body tackling issues affecting Saipan and the Northern Islands, disclosed some have called up his office to protest the law.

"I don't enjoy (it when) my name is plastered up the wall," he told his colleagues, prodding the delegation to pass his measure to help parents who turn to video for their children's entertainment when they can't afford cable television.

"Is this the only way we can come up with funding for the youth?" the chairman asked. "This is not the time (to impose this tax). Everybody is hurting. It is not us who are paying, it's them."

House Speaker Diego T. Benavente also warned that the tax is ill timed considering the economic difficulties facing both the people and business owners who could not afford the rising costs of consumer items and basic necessities.

"We are not taking away money from kids," he explained. "Fifteen cents is small, but everyone is hurting. You reduce the purchasing power of the people and you reduce the revenues of the government."

Many of the legislators who were undecided called for further review of the bill as recommended by Senate Vice President Thomas P. Villagomez, who said SNILD has "goofed up" on the imposition of the tax.

Reyes likewise said nobody has any idea how much money has been collected so far, suggesting that revenues seem so little that each legislator could just pitch in and contribute $3,000 from his or her account to finance the proposed youth centers.

In the end, however, a motion to defer action on HLB 11-15 won by a vote during the second voting and the committee is expected to study the proposal before it goes back to the floor.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT

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