FOUR MONTHS INTO FISCAL YEAR, STILL NO CNMI BUDGET

Editorial

Marianas Variety

SAIPAN, CNMI (Feb. 6, 2008) – Following the ruling party’s electoral trouncing late last year, cabinet reshuffles were promised by the governor, but it is February already and reshuffles are more justified now considering the dwindling tourist numbers and the increase in burglaries, robberies and, now, assaults on tourists.

There is, moreover, still no justification for the salaries of "special assistants" whose duties merely duplicate those of existing agencies.

Was the governor merely cracking the whip and putting the fear of God in his appointees when he announced the "reshuffle" last year? Was that his way of reminding them that he was, and still is, in charge?

The governor, as a candidate in 2005, pledged better times for the CNMI which, we now know, will never happen under his watch. But by revamping his cabinet he can fulfill at least one of his other promises.

Budget blah

The governor has reiterated that the government’s projected revenues for FY 2008 will be $160 million only. That’s over $3 million less than the current budget, which remains in force because the Legislature has yet to pass a new spending package for a fiscal year that started four months ago.

The House has promised public hearings and the Senate says the budget is also among its priorities, but the real test is whether lawmakers have the guts to impose cuts. The Constitution, however, allows them not to pass a new budget, and given the choice between doing something necessary but painful and saying anything while doing nothing, we can pretty much guess the outcome of these budget deliberations.

Deep-seated problems

The people, whether employed by the government or by the private sector, worry about whether they will keep their jobs in this shrinking economy. Now they also have to worry over their safety at their business establishments, their homes or even while they are out at the beach. Domestic violence seems to be on the rise, too.

The effect of this increase in criminal activity is insidious. It adds to a higher level of anxiety and concern over personal safety and property issues, a worry that never plagued this community in the past. (A bumper sticker seen yesterday on a pick-up proclaims, "I’m not a tourist. I’m an armed native." Perhaps MVA and DPS should start distributing these stickers to tourists.)

These are indicators of deep-seated problems forced to the surface by the lack of prospects in the community and the government’s inability to do its basic job. Modeling new mopeds, for example, as the public safety commissioner has done, is only worthwhile if police officers will patrol their beats on these new contraptions. Her first responsibility, however, is to find ways to cut crime and to catch the culprits responsible for crimes, and not to make more excuses why she can’t.

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