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Government transfers funds from Finance Dept.

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 30, 2012) – Gov. Benigno R. Fitial said the transfer of some $261,000 from the Department of Finance to the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. helped avert a payless payday for doctors at the hospital on Friday.

Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson also said Finance made an allotment to CHC that "contributed to their payroll" Friday.

CHC needs some $800,000 to meet biweekly payroll.

The governor said that CHC officials called him up on Thursday, telling him that the corporation cannot pay the doctors on Friday. Fitial said Finance reviewed possible sources of funding that could be used to pay the doctors.

The $261,000 that Finance transferred to CHC is not part of the $5 million seed money allotted by the government to the corporation for fiscal year 2012, but came from reimbursement for Medicare and other services that the hospital had provided.

CHC now gets to keep what it collects for services rendered, instead of remitting it to the central government for appropriation.

"Whenever CHC performs services, they can draw it down from the [federal government]. So those are the drawdowns, totaling $261,000 they asked me to pay the doctors. That was on the pipe already. It's just a matter of transferring that money to the corporation's account because there's money that came in under federal grant accounts and all federal grant accounts are handled by Finance," the governor said in an interview after meeting with 23 lawmakers on Friday at the Saipan World Resort on Friday.

The governor reiterated that the administration, along with the Legislature, continues to seek ways to generate revenue to continue to fund public services and one of those revenue-generating measures is through legalizing casino gaming on Saipan. A House Saipan casino bill is still pending with the Senate, which killed a similar bill in 2010.

One of the new ideas that the governor proposed was to allow existing hotels and golf courses to acquire through fee simple the public lands they are currently leasing from the CNMI government within 180 days after voters approve of such a move.

Sen. Ralph Torres (R-Saipan) said if any such initiative passes and is ratified by voters, it will pave the way for the establishment of commercial property taxes for affected hotels and golf courses. The CNMI currently does not have property taxes.

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