Saipan lawmakers take 11 months to pass $3.464M bill for scholarship, pet projects

Saipan Tribune – Local | Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Saipan lawmakers take 11 months to pass $3.464M bill for scholarship, pet projects
By Haidee V. Eugenio – Reporter


Saipan lawmakers took 11 months before finally passing last night a local bill appropriating a total of $3.464 million in poker license fees to fund the Saipan Higher Education Financial Assistance and other pet projects.

When Rep. Ray Yumul (R-Saipan) introduced House Local Bill 17-33 on June 18, 2010, the initial appropriation amount was $3.26 million. By yesterday’s session of the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation-more than 11 months and over 20 floor amendments later-the amount was at $3.464 million.

The four-hour session, which lasted until 6:10pm, was spent mostly on introducing, discussing and debating floor amendments and session breaks.

HLB 17-33, D7 now heads to Gov. Benigno R. Fitial.

“The governor is highly likely to exercise his line item veto,” said Yumul, who is also the chairman of the delegation’s Ways and Means Committee that reviewed the bill.

Yumul told his colleagues that their proposals on where to spend the poker license revenue totaled $3.464 million, which is already close to the total projected collection of $3.510 million for fiscal year 2011.

He said there could be as many as 47 machines that won’t be licensed or renewed this year, although lawmakers are hoping they would be licensed between now and the end of the fiscal year. Each Saipan machine’s license fee is $6,000.

House minority leader Diego Benavente (R-Saipan) said there should be a “cushion” because not all the poker machines could be renewed or licensed in 2011.

Regardless of the threat of poker machines not being licensed this year, Saipan lawmakers took turns offering proposals how to spend the poker license fees.

Of the total amount appropriated, majority or $3 million will be for SHEFA’s scholarship checks. Another $100,000 will be for SHEFA’s operations and personnel.

The rest goes to at least 17 other programs and pet projects, including $25,000 for the Little League, $20,000 for the Flame Tree Arts Festival, and $10,000 for the upcoming Pacific Mini Games.

Among the latest floor amendments that added to the total cost of appropriation was Rep. Ray Palacios’ (Cov-Saipan) proposed $50,000 for the Northern Marianas Trade Institute. Members adopted this amendment.

Delegation chair Rep. Ray Tebuteb (R-Saipan) proposed a new $10,000 appropriation for the Pacific Games bidding committee, which got the members’ nod.

Rep. Frank Dela Cruz’s (R-Saipan) proposed $5,000 for the Flame Tree Arts Festival’s insurance premium was also adopted.

Rep. Stanley Torres’ (Ind-Saipan) proposal to reinstate $10,000 for the Saipan Fishing Derby was also adopted. Other members had wanted this given to other projects.

Vice Speaker Felicidad Ogumoro (Cov-Saipan) offered to give $15,000 for the Northern Islands Development Summit, which some members said could be inappropriate in this time of austerity.

Four of the 18 members present voted against Ogumoro’s amendment, saying there have already been Northern Islands development plans gathering dust on the shelf and that $15,000 is too much for a summit. But when voting came, 12 said “yes” and one abstained.

The $15,000 came from the $10,000 that was originally for the Saipan Fishing Derby, which Rep. Stanley Torres later successfully reinstated, and $5,000 originally for the Division of Youth Services’ 30th anniversary celebration.

Other events and programs funded were the construction of bus shelters on Precincts 1 and 5, maintenance of the Oleai Sports Complex, Agricultural Fair, Saipan Zoning, Liberation Day activities, Boy Scouts, Neighborhood Watch program, and grounds maintenance equipment for public schools.

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