Marianas Variety

SAIPAN, CNMI (April 27) – One of the letters we published recently noted that abolishing municipal councils will not solve the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) government’s financial problems, and the letter writer is right. The US$1 million that will no longer be wasted on the councils will simply be wasted elsewhere. The same goes for the proposals to reduce legislative seats and have part-time lawmakers.

The only reason these entities are such obvious targets for real cost-cutting measures is because they’re asking for it. They’re too visible, too wasteful, too useless.

The commonwealth’s problem has been painfully clear all these years — the CNMI can no longer afford a government that is too big because it has too many offices and agencies that duplicate each other’s functions but continue to exist as dumping grounds for political hires whom no sane person in the private sector would hire for the rates that these government officials and employees are getting from taxpayers.

The government, in short, is broke yet it continues to spend money like it’s not. If the government were a household or a business entity faced with the same problem, it would have long ago told the truth to its family members or employees and quickly cut expenses while trying to earn or save more money. But because the government spends money that it never earned and merely collected from faceless taxpayers, all its branches, agencies, officials and personnel are now claiming to be "essential" and should be exempted from budget cuts. These are the same people who tell their kids that they will only get a certain amount as an allowance because that’s all mom and dad can afford, and that mom and dad too are also cutting down on their spending. But this common sense financial rule has never been applied to the government. Which is why it’s bankrupt.

Imposing new fees and raising taxes is not even an option, and is the equivalent of kicking someone with a toothache in the teeth.

It is a race to the bottom out there. Businesses are trying to reduce their prices and costs while imposing paycuts and shorter workhours even as consumers do their shopping at weekend garage sales, buy produce from illegal roadside vendors and order food from those who deliver bentos that can be paid for on paydays. How can stores and restaurants compete with that?

The CNMI minimum wage, moreover, is way less now than US$3.05 and I’m not even factoring in the rise in the cost of living — which includes gasoline prices and CUC rates — since the wage rate was last set by garment lawmakers in 1996.

But raising the minimum wage in this economy is like milking a bull. Or expecting a rooster to lay eggs. Businesses can’t even pay US$3.05 — how do we expect them to pay more?

No. You don’t tell someone who is obese to eat more empanada and fried chicken. You tell him to diet and exercise, and that’s what this bloated government has to do.

We all know this, yet there are still officials and individuals talking about "empowering" municipal councils and increasing the number of their members because that’s how "state-" and "local-level" governments work in the U.S.

It’s as if the CNMI were a wood and tin house and one member of the household, who couldn’t even afford to pay the CUC bill, was whining about the lack of a whirlpool bathtub.

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