SAIPAN – By a vote of 7-1, the Senate on Wednesday passed House Bill 21-44 to allow the government to borrow $15 million from the Marianas Public Land Trust for the "extraordinary" costs incurred in the Supertyphoon Yutu recovery.
According to the measure, which now goes to the governor's desk, the loan would be paid with "future interest income distributions owed to the Commonwealth general fund."
The bill would also require the Department of Finance to submit to the governor, lieutenant governor, the Legislature and MPLT a quarterly loan report detailing the loan balance, the interest accrued, list of expenses, drawdown breakdown and any reductions due to MPLT's withholding the interest distribution.
Sen. Frank Borja was absent Wednesday.
Sen. Paul Manglona, who cast the lone "no" vote, said he could not support the bill when there are "other options."
He did, however, thank the MPLT trustees for "bending over backwards" to accommodate the government as it tries to address its financial woes.
Manglona: Why not just go to IPI?
Manglona said he has no problem with the MPLT trustees who performed their fiduciary duty in reviewing the request before granting it. But he has a "problem" with the borrower, the CNMI government, which he believes should have tried to obtain funding from Imperial Pacific International's $20 million community benefit fund.
The senator also said the governor had not responded to his letter demanding "reliable factual information such as realistic current revenue estimates," including the casino revenue and the casino community chest fund as provided in the casino license agreement.
Rather than borrowing public land proceeds, why not just go to IPI instead? Manglona asked.
He said the Senate should "call in the Lottery Commission and remind everyone about the requirements in the casino license agreement."
Senate Vice President Jude Hofschneider said it is comforting to know that the MPLT trustees performed their fiduciary duty to the "highest level" when deciding to approve the loan. He said that as lawmakers, it's part of their responsibility to help address the government's financial crisis.
Sen. Teresita Santos said "this is our opportune time" to act on a very critical legislation that would help address the government's financial problems.
MPLT trustee Maria Frica Pangelinan told the senators that the passage of H.B. 21-44 would satisfy the requirements of the loan.
She attended the Senate session, along with MPLT Chairman Martin Ada and Finance Secretary David Atalig.