By Johnnie Rosario
Former Congressman Ed Propst, who may be returning in January to the CNMI House of Representatives, said he will push for the upcoming Commonwealth Legislature to slash Gov. Ralph Torres's salary in half until the governor learns how to submit balanced budgets.
"One of the first pieces of legislation we will pass in the 22nd Legislature is to cut the salary of the Governor from $120,000 to $60,000 until we see a budget that is NOT in deficit," Mr. Propst wrote on social media.
Mr. Propst has not publicly announced whether he will accept his election to the House; he won election without seeking or campaigning for the office, and received the highest number of votes throughout the Commonwealth. His statement on social media, however, seems to indicate he will be taking his seat in January.
He has been one of the strongest critics of Mr. Torres and his administration, often pointing out the governor's corruption and financial mismanagement of the government.
"Every single budget we have seen from this Administration has been in deficit spending, and while he and his lackeys blame all kinds of external factors, his personal spending and favorable contracts to connected companies say otherwise," Mr. Propst wrote further about Torres.
The CNMI government is facing its worst financial crisis in its history, with the largest budget deficit that has ballooned since Mr. Torres became governor in the wake of the late Gov. Eloy Inos's death. Mr. Inos was a fiscal hawk, who reigned in spending and did away with the personal allowances and trappings of the office while he was the CNMI's chief executive.
Mr. Torres has been anything but fiscally responsible with taxpayer dollars. The deficit has grown larger nearly every year he's been governor, according to the audited financials of the government. The deficit has grown, despite hefty tax revenue growth from the early days of the Best Sunshine casino. Under Mr. Torres's watch, the fiscal integrity of the government's retirement fund has eroded, several critical agencies have been underfunded, teachers's salaries have been cut, public schools are deteriorating, government employees have been furloughed, and tax refunds have fallen behind.
Meanwhile, Mr. Torres has continued to hire his cronies into high-paid positions in the government. Official documents show the governor has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on government-paid first class travel everywhere from Asia to the east coast, with several personal shopping sprees and fine dining evenings filled with expensive scotch - all on taxpayer dime. That includes the Cheetos.
Unlike Mr. Inos, Torres also avails of an allowance to pay for the utilities at his private residence. Utilities records also show he had the people of the CNMI pay for utilities to his sister's home.
Many of his top Republican supporters in the current Commonwealth Legislature also avail of an up-to-$5,000-a-month allowance. Most of them have refused to disclose the receipts of their purchases using this allowance.
Many of them lost re-election to the House to Democrats, who are expected to control the chamber in January. In the Senate, once-popular Republican Sen. Sixto Igisomar, who was one of the Torres cronies who took the monthly allowance and refused to disclose receipts, lost his seat to Sen.-elect Edith Deleon Guerrero.