By Jeffrey C. Turbitt
Lots of things are going on in the CNMI of late, many of them with little scrutiny, as the casino issue seems to be taking up everyone's energy on both sides of that debate, which is becoming overblown and tiring with the exaggerated rhetoric on both sides. The issue with the most scant debate is the Fitial Administration's latest "austerity holiday," which seems designed to avoid difficult decisions about the bloated bureaucracy and to keep political cronies fully employed at the expense of docking the pay of teachers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, police officers and other essential services that have employees who do more meaningful, necessary, harder to staff work.
In teachers' case at least, the PSS contract pays teachers for 190 work days. In order to give the government more time to come up with the money for salaries, the paychecks are spread out over the full year. No big deal. But now the cash strapped government, apparently not strapped enough over the last year to avoid taking junkets to Hawaii, hiring a new lobbyist, funding MVA with millions even though it can't put up a respectable CNMI website, hiring a public relations firm and paying off Dr. Jesus Camacho to the tune of $4,000 per month for all the letters to the editor he wrote during the campaign, wants to not pay everyone for 14 holidays unless those employees actually work that day -- something possible for nurses, doctors and police officers, but not for teachers. So teachers and others are a house vote away from having their contracts violated and losing 13 days pay, not to mention being treated like convenience store clerks instead of the college educated professionals they are.
Teachers and others are putting up as much fight as a sea slug after electroshock therapy on this issue, which is perhaps a normal reaction given the daily barrage of bad news everyone is accustomed to hearing. With limited funds, I'd probably stick it to the teachers too given what zombies they are and how little political price there is in robbing them, but that is what is happening with little awareness or concern about what is close to happening. PSS doesn't want to take a position on this bill, I asked them, and neither did several teachers I asked. It’s sad how little will there is to enforce the tax code via collections, an issue brought up by candidates in the Wednesday Roundtable discussions at San Vicente Elementary School each Wednesday at 7:00 pm including the Board of Education candidates tonight, consider a new tax on those that can most afford it such as those property taxless mansions on the hill, or just cut out more waste rather than rubber stamp this lousy new version of the ill named “austerity holiday.”
In other recent matters, the legislative override to lower the residential power rates wasn't much of a shock, and the power has been suspiciously unstable more than usual since the override. The governor was being honest and prudent, not expedient, in vetoing the bill. I’ll give him credit there. CUC, like most things on this island, is run ineptly.
It seemed like there were at least fewer power outages with the higher rates as people conserved. I would expect more outages now, and that will drive businesses away and further our economic collapse. Driving to the Red Cross 200 on Saturday, I noticed Garapan started the big night in darkness.
There was no business reduction in the power rates, so the businesses still have the high rates and can expect more outages as well. This is an election year gambit. There is no plan in place to fund the financial shortfall this will cause, and this override is another signal to any possible firms who would run a privatized power company that the politicians will do whatever is politically expedient. CUC needs close oversight for waste, abuse and corruption, not candy thrown to voters a month before an election.
Half the problem is our Jurassic and economy of scale requirement to have a diesel engine power plant, which no one thought wise to maintain. It is interesting to see this debate over nuclear power, which will require elected officials to spend a lot of time doing their homework and making a wise decision on the viability of a nuclear plant – a prospect that is hard to imagine.
On a positive note, people who went on this past Saturday night saw a rare thing for at least one night -- a booming CNMI economy. The Red Cross Club 200 brought out lots of Saipan celebrities and raised money for a good cause. I booed heartily as the word Joeten went out for the Grand Prize winner, who did then generously donate the money back to the Red Cross, who chose a new winner. I haven’t received any thanks from Margaret Muna for the subtle pressure that helped get her the $15,000 grand prize on the second chance. Everyone was in a festive mood at this well organized event, and people were out having fun and boosting the economy in various locations after the event. For one night there was a palpable sense of optimism on island, and it was nice to see.
Jeffrey C. Turbitt is the language arts department chairman at Saipan Southern High School, as well as an avid scuba diver and traveler. He offers more thoughts in his blog “Hypercritical Thoughts” at: www.turbittj.blogspot.com/ He welcomes feedback, tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.