Monday, April 03, 2006

The ten percent cut

In the annals of bad ideas and bad planning, of which there has never been a shortage in the CNMI, this ten percent across the board pay cut/regressive tax aimed at government workers to pay everyone else’s power bill is a real prize winner. Sherlock Holmes described his arch rival Professor Moriarity as the “Napoleon of Crime.” We live in an age of excessive comparison, so I would describe this 10 percent cut as the 1927 Yankees/Abbey Road/Sistene Chapel/Angelina Jolie of bad ideas.

The common excuse heard is that the government is broke. The government is broke because in this “Petri dish of capitalism” there are virtually no taxes. The U.S. has a sales tax, property tax, federal income tax, state income tax, social security tax, and yet is still by far the largest economy on the planet. We have a meager local tax with an enormous rebate, I believe 80 percent, that gets refunded seemingly only to the well-connected. How is it that no one proposed an across the board tax to help raise revenues, and combine that by reducing wasteful spending, rather than essentially place a regressive tax only on government workers. Before countering with the timeless Republican lie on how you can just cut taxes and everything will be just fine as business cranks up, note that the U.S. just raised the deficit level to nearly $9 trillion thanks to the glorious Bush tax cuts our illustrious “approval rating challenged” leader openly lied about.

As prices at the pump have gone up, everyone has to pay the going rate of gas. The government can’t control the prices set by Shell and Mobil, but with enough squawking, people think they can pay an artificially low rate on their power bill, use the fly by night government to pay the difference, and now that the well there is going dry, stick it to the government workers in a poorly thought out salary cut scheme. We all are going to have to pay the real rate of power, and the fuel surcharge probably needs to go even higher. A quick check of the inflation adjusted price of oil per barrel shows an increase from $10 per barrel in 1999 to almost $70 now. I personally feel if you were so gullible to believe campaign season nonsense about scrapping the fuel surcharge, you should pay extra for believing such bollocks. (Author’s Footnote: Bollocks means nonsense or BS and is an extremely popular word in Britain. I have to use this word because nonsense/BS is a word so commonly needed in the CNMI that an obscure synonym is required to avoid saying BS/nonsense too many times in a single letter to the editor.)

It would have been nice for someone over the years to actually govern and investigate solar power and/or hydro power. The last I checked, the CNMI has no shortage of sun or ocean. That required foresight, so it was never done, and everyone forgot the oil crunch of the 70s, and the oil spike in the first Gulf War way back when Achilles was a great warrior in the Trojan War, in what was that, 1991.

While naturally I am notably concerned with my own family, the schools, and my fellow teachers, I am especially disgusted by the regressive nature of this proposal, which is being implemented because it is “less complicated.” To take $1,000 from a $10,000 a year custodian is far more damaging to that person’s family than to take $5,000 from a $50,000 a year public information officer being paid to sling BS.

I have heard that NMC instructors haven’t gotten a raise in something like seven years, plus NMC’s budget just got slammed. I can’t imagine many of these professors remaining on island with a 10 percent cut/insult after years of no raise. I can’t imagine anyone with higher degrees and higher skills like doctors staying on island. I can’t imagine the chaos this throws PSS in, when they already are going to have staffing problems relating to the Praxis requirement. This will lead to even more wildly overcrowded classrooms, less talented and qualified teachers replacing more talented, educated, mobile teachers who will go somewhere else that actually pays the going wage, and discouraged students with fewer skills to drag themselves out of this economic slumber.

Since clearly something has to be done about the financial problems, there are other ideas to investigate. So far the new administration seems to be shaking up the most wasteful agencies, and clearly that is a good start. While this is unimaginable given the governor’s history and allegiances, how about ending the exemption to the business gross revenue tax exemption to the garment factories – you know the people who abandoned and never paid those crying, starving Chinese garment workers we see on television and read about in the paper and promptly ignore. The garment factories are a black eye on this place’s reputation, and there is only so long you can pull the charade of selling designer clothes to Americans marked Made in the USA when they are made by Chinese in Saipan for $3.05 per hour. With the change in the tariff rules, the garment factory business here is over anyway. It is also notable that a Department of the Interior study, frequently quoted in this paper, notes that the factories cost the government more in services than it takes in through taxes. The disappearance of the factories wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Perhaps the government won’t have to spend millions of dollars on disgraced lobbyists like Jack Abramoff to do the garment factories’ bidding if the garment factories are gone. It doesn’t seem very capitalistic to spend public money to mostly benefit a few wealthy private factory owners anyway. All the talk about “paternalism” and “protecting our immigration policies” really means protecting the garment factories ability to bring in foreign workers to work for meager wages, which sets a precedent for every other private industry to offer the same meager wages to local people in the private sector, which then requires a bloated bureaucracy, which leads to idea two: cut down the bloated bureaucracy. Not all jobs are created equal. Some can be combined or eliminated, so do a thorough business style review and eliminate the non-essential, but offer some kind of career training, and give these people some notice so they can adjust.

My third idea is that if a salary cut is absolutely necessary, at least make it progressive. To throw out one idea, there should be no cut on the first $15,000 or less in salary, perhaps 5 percent on salaries between 15,000 and $35,000, 10 percent on salaries above $35,000 and 15 percent on salary above $50,000. Note, doctors should be exempted because I don’t want surgery or medical advice from people in a bad mood about their salary, and let’s face it; we need them more than they need us.

It is still early in this administration, and some good things have been done. Let’s hope this ten percent regressive tax on government workers dies on the vine before the Covenant Party lawmakers see a 100 percent salary reduction after the next election since other than this one spectacularly bad idea, they seem to have some other good ideas.