Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Here's a surprise, our lawmakers still don't get it and are trying to raise taxes instead of cutting expenses.

Food For Thought 2-23-07

Hi friends, this is Harry Blalock; General Manager for radio stations KZMI & KCNM. It’s that time once again to take a look at the issues of the week, and to offer some Food For Thought.

I guess it’s about that time once again to remind you that there is an election coming up in November, and that has a tendency to bring up all kinds of ridiculous legislation and political shenanigans. Lawmakers have a long history of trying all kinds of things to hang on to their positions and their power. This current crop realizes that most people out there have been far less than impressed with their performance so far, so now they are trying whatever they have to in order to buy some political goodwill, and hopefully get enough votes to keep their jobs.

You’ll recall they were all worried about keeping their jobs back when a 10% pay cut for all government employees was first suggested last year. Enough government employees came out at the public hearings complaining about the pay cut, that the legislators were afraid to do what needed to be done for fear of being voted out of office at the next election. So instead of keeping government services intact and keeping the government operating on a full time basis, they buckled to the pressure of government employees and decided that instead of cutting all government employees salaries by 10%, which would have included theirs, they came up with the Austerity Friday idea. So every other Friday they would shut down all non-essential government services and give the employees a day off without pay. This worked out better for the government employees, since they got extra time off to go along with their pay cut, and it worked out better for the legislators since they didn’t have to take the pay cut, even though they just gave themselves an extra day off every other week. Now if they weren’t going to volunteer to take the pay cut, you would think they would be honorable enough to keep working on the Austerity Fridays, but not this bunch. Now some of the legislators did agree to voluntarily take the 10% pay cut, but they are in the minority, as most of them opted to keep their salary the same, and continue to be a part of the problem rather than be part of the solution. I will be disclosing which legislators did and did not take the 10% pay cut right before the elections, as I feel that is very important information, which you might want to use in deciding who deserves your vote.

The point here is that rather than come up with the best solution to the problem taking everyone’s needs into consideration, the legislators did the thing they thought would buy them the most political goodwill and votes, ignoring the needs of the private sector and the business community. It seems that most of them conveniently forget that taxes are raised and generated from the private sector, and that is what enables government to operate at all. So rather than find out how closing all government offices every other Friday would affect the various businesses, the legislators just blindly pushed ahead, putting their own petty self interests in front of the needs of the business community.

Evidently the message that this was a complete fiasco has been getting back to some of them, so they are coming up with their own methods of how to deal with it. And plus, they are more concerned than ever about what government employees think about them with the election getting closer and closer all the time, so they are trying to give them back some of their pay to keep them happy. The top story in Thursday’s Saipan Tribune said, House OK’s repeal of austerity holiday law. The bill was authored by Representative Manuel Tenorio, although went through several amendments before passing on a vote of 10 to 5. The purpose of the bill was to put an end to government bi-weekly austerity holidays and replace them with unpaid legal holidays, and to reduce tax rebates. This way government employees would start receiving their 80 hours again, and the government wouldn’t be closed every other Friday, but government employees would no longer be paid for legal holidays. The original bill was only to affect legal holidays for the rest of this fiscal year, but an amendment by Representative Joseph Deleon Guerrero extended it to the end of fiscal year 2008.

But what may be more important about this bill is that it is seeking to reduce the tax rebates, which is in reality a tax increase. Now the legislators will probably argue that they are only reducing a current benefit, not adding any new taxes, you say pototo – I say potato. The bottom line is you would wind up paying more in taxes every year, which in effect makes it a tax increase. And that is one of the only things we have left to make us attractive to prospective investors. Do we have another available foot we could collectively shoot ourselves in? As if we don’t already have enough strikes against us in trying to attract investors, we just keep giving them more and more reasons not to come here. Those who voted in favor of this hare brained idea are Representatives Francisco Dela Cruz, Bobby Deleon Guerrero, Joseph Deleon Guerrero, Crispin Ogo, Arnold Palacios, Candido Taman, Ramon Tebuteb, Stanley Torres, Ray Yumul and Manuel Tenorio. Voting against it were House Speaker Oscar Babauta, Vice Speaker Justo Quitugua, Representatives Martin Ada, Cinta Kaipat and Jesus Lizama.

Now it is no secret that the government is experiencing drastic cash shortfalls, but let’s not mince words, we are bankrupt! Our cash outflow is exceeding our cash intake, which means we either have to figure out how to bring more money in, or stop spending so much. You can see the path chosen by some of our lawmakers, they don’t want to have to cut anything, especially their own salaries or budgets, so they come up with a way to take more of your money away from you and make you pay even more to keep this obscenely bloated government afloat. They have obviously not been listening to the people, because you have been pretty clear in saying that you think the government is far too large and needs to be cut down to size. More and more of you have also been saying that you believe the legislature needs to be turned into a part time body and their salaries and budgets slashed accordingly. But that option doesn’t seem to be on any of their desks. Rather than face reality, and realize that our government grew to ridiculous proportions that we can no longer afford, these self serving bureaucrats want to keep the status quo, keep their cushy jobs and generous subsistence allowances, and force you to pay more so they can hold on to their privilege.

We have far too many government employees, and contrary to what the administration may claim, it seems there are still political hiring’s happening and relatives and those owed political favors are still getting jobs. I just heard of two such instances today in fact, one at the Arts Council and another at the Nutritional Assistance Program. I don’t know if everything has been finalized for the hiring’s or not, since it is a government austerity Friday and I can’t get any information from the government, but the fact that these things are continuing to happen is upsetting quite a few people, and rightfully so.

Then I see where another “Johnny come lately” lawmaker has all the sudden come up with a brainstorm to save money, abolish the Municipal Councils. Representative Candido Taman says Municipal Councils have no actual purpose, since their job duplicates the function of the local island delegations. While his arguments and reasoning are sound, there is nothing new about them; I was saying the exact same thing 5 years ago. I brought up the idea of abolishing the Municipal Councils as a way to cut down on unnecessary government expenses way back then, realizing that the only thing they really did was to congratulate various people on their accomplishments and hand out plaques so they could all get their pictures in the paper.

I just find it ironic that some of these lawmakers can sit on their backsides for the past year and not do a single thing, and now all the sudden they are getting all these great ideas. Could it be they are worried that you will hold them accountable and want to see what they have actually done? If they’re not worried about it, they certainly should be. Because I have been watching them all carefully and plan on detailing just what they have done while in office and making it all public right before the elections. I believe that the best vote is an informed vote, and you should have as much information to base your vote on as you possibly can. Honestly I can only find one or two lawmakers who I feel actually deserve our votes in the next election, and that’s very sad, since we have 21 of them coming up for re-election in November. The thing I’m worried about is that we won’t have any good alternatives to vote for; just more of the same old ones we see keep popping up year after year.

Show me a lawmaker who is actually listening to the people, and who is acting accordingly, and that will be a good starting point. However for those who just voted in favor of this new bill to repeal the austerity holidays and reduce the tax rebates, they obviously don’t get it, and haven’t been listening to anyone but themselves. Those are 10 names I can guarantee will never get my vote ever again, and it will be interesting to see who signs on to this bill in the senate. If they really want to do something positive, they will get serious about cutting the size of government drastically and forcing us to start living within our means, not trying to continue funding a sickly bloated dinosaur that is dying. Are you listening lawmakers, because we’re definitely watching and taking notes.

I’m Harry Blalock, thanking you once again for giving me a generous slice of your valuable time, and allowing me to share my Food For Thought.

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My commentary that airs on radio stations KZMI - 103.9 FM & KCNM - 101.1 FM