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Opinion: Legislature must prevent Torres spending spree of $500M+

By Edwin K. Propst

Should Governor Torres have full discretion and authority to spend the $515 million that is soon to come from President Biden's stimulus package -- the American Rescue Plan?

In yesterday's House Session, House Ways and Means Chairman Donald Manglona and co-sponsors introduced HB 22-33, which will mandate any expenditure of such funding from the federal government be approved by the CNMI Legislature.

In my previous three terms as a representative serving in the minority, I listened to the Republican Leadership during those three terms talk about the importance of the House holding and maintaining the "power of the purse" when it comes to appropriations and spending, whether it is local or federal appropriations. Today, I am hearing the exact opposite, which is odd.

Yesterday, we were asked why this bill should be rushed. Why not let the committees do their work? This is odd, because there are literally dozens and dozens of bills that were passed in first and final reading when the Republicans had the House Leadership, that were rushed because time was of the essence, because it was an emergency. So why is this suddenly a problem? Why are representatives reluctant to be included in the decision-making of half a billion dollars of federal money?

My dear friends, can we trust any one person, let alone Governor Torres, to spend $515 million wisely and prudently, without proper checks and balances, most especially coming from the Legislature, as your elected representatives? Whatever happened to separation of power? Are we not another branch of government, or do we serve under the Administration and do as we are told? This goes well beyond party lines.

Half a billion dollars is a ton of money for our CNMI government. This huge gift from the federal government will be spent over the course of the next two years and it must be invested in OUR PEOPLE, not connected corporations, or the inner circle and favorites, or on illegal overtime for cabinet members, or on travel and questionable purchases. By the way, over $8 million in overtime from Yutu has already been declared non-reimbursable by the federal government. We have seen runaway and reckless government spending that has led to deficits in four straight years.

What are your thoughts? Do you think Governor Torres should have sole discretion on how to spend $515 million in the next two years? Yes or no? Please chime in. Thank you.

P.S. Thank you Congressman Kilili Sablan and your colleagues in the United States Congress for bringing economic aid and recovery to our Commonwealth and our country. We are most grateful.

Edwin K. Propst is a Democratic member of the CNMI House of Representatives, chairman of the House Gaming Committee, and a resident of Dandan, Saipan.

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