CNMI House Leaders To Ask Inos For CUC Upgrade Funds

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Speaker would like tourism monies passed to CUC, retirement fund

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Nov. 21, 2013) – The CNMI House leadership does not want the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. (CUC) to sacrifice funding for the upgrade of critical equipment so it will ask Gov. Eloy S. Inos to find money and pay CUC.

Speaker Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero, IR-Saipan, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Tony P. Sablan met yesterday to discuss potential financial resources that the government can use to pay its $18 million debt to CUC.

In an interview after their meeting, Deleon Guerrero said he will call for a leadership meeting and meet with the governor "to see if he has identified new resources."

The speaker noted that "we’ve been seeing double-digit growth in tourism." If tourism revenue goes higher, he would like the administration to direct some of it to CUC, after addressing the needs of the NMI Retirement Fund.

Inos earlier said the government is hoping to earn $14 million from increasing tourism activity and be able to help the retirees and the defined benefit plan members.

The speaker said "anything above that, we can give to CUC to prevent a future crisis."

CUC Executive Director Alan W. Fletcher on Monday announced that CUC "has secured adequate funding in order to withdraw its emergency rate petition from the Commonwealth Public Utilities Commission."

But he also disclosed that they did it by "robbing Peter to pay Paul."

They deferred the implementation of other critical projects that include upgrades of CUC’s old radio system, mechanized brush trimmers and chippers for right-of-way clearing and a new auger truck.

Fletcher said: "While we have met our funding goal to comply with the federal orders, we have done so by sacrificing important equipment needs. While withdrawing the emergency petition is good news for our consumers, it shows the importance of having an adequate funding base for the utility."

Deleon Guerrero said the problem has not been solved.

CUC will use unobligated grant money and redirect funding for current non-grant funded capital-improvement projects.

"Here is the thing. [CUC] robbed Peter to pay Paul. That means if we don’t find money for CUC we could jeopardize its preventive maintenance program," the speaker said.

"We don’t want to have CUC decay again and repeat what happened in 2008 when there were rolling blackouts. We don’t want to see a crisis like that again," he added.

He said the House leadership will convince the administration to find at least $8 million to $10 million to pay CUC.

"I am just saying we, the Legislature and the administration, have an obligation. CUC is in dire straits now because the CNMI government has not been paying its bills.

"What I don’t want is CUC having no parts to fix its generators and no money to deal with emergencies because upgrades can’t be done," the speaker said.

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