New CNMI Lobbyist Hired...

and Economic News

May 6, 2008

Governor Fitial has hired another lobbyist. According to the Saipan Tribune, the firm of Fleishman-Hillard, was hired in April for $25,000 to cover a six-month period. (Read the lobbying registration here.) The lobbyist has been hired to seek $15-million federal aid. The governor's former lobbyist, Oldaker, Biden, and Belair was hired to stop federalization and a minimum wage increase and was terminated on January 31, 2008 according to their lobbying report.

The article states:

"Press secretary Charles P. Reyes Jr. said in a statement that Fleishman-Hillard is expected to help the local government secure at least $15 million in congressional appropriations “to help a devastated CNMI economy cope with further economic losses once all CNMI garment factories shut down and other CNMI businesses close down from the impact of federal minimum wage hikes.”

He said the firm had helped the governor in drafting the letters he sent to U.S. senators and representatives recently. The letters asked for the lawmakers' support for money to offset the impact of the wage increases.

In a telephone interview, Reyes said the administration was “compelled” to hire the lobbyist because congressional members and staffers know too little, if at all, about the Northern Marianas' location, history, and needs."

From my own experience in visiting congressional offices 8 times in the last year, I can say that the people I talk to do know about the CNMI and issues. In fact, members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee are well-versed in CNMI issues, as are the committee staff members. Perhaps the governor is misinterpreting knowledge for support of his views?

Press Secretary Charles Reyes took another swipe at Washington Rep. Pete A. Tenorio saying:

“A paid lobbyist would not have been necessary if we had someone representing us in D.C. whose positions on issues are aligned with the administration's.”

The firm has offices world-wide including offices in Hong Kong and Manila. Perhaps meetings with the new lobbyists was the purpose of the governor's recent trips.
Prices Rising - Electricity Rates to Double

While the CNMI administration spends funds on lobbyists, the papers covered stories on the rapid increase in basic commodities. The Saipan Tribune reports that residential power rates have doubled! The article states:

"Residential customers are in for a shock when they get their power bills next month, after the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. revised its power rates yesterday, increasing them to more than double the previous rates.

The action comes soon after Gov. Benigno R. Fitial on Saturday signed into law the measure that suspends the power rates rollback.

Effective Saturday, the rate for residential customers for the first 500 kilowatt-hour is 37.3 cents per kWh-the highest ever electric rate in the CNMI.

For those with consumptions ranging from 501 to 1,000 kWh, the rate is now 42.3 cents; for those that range from 1,000 to 2,000 kWh, it is 44.3 cents; and for those with over 2,000 kWh, it is 48.4 cents."

I have heard from numerous guest workers that they cannot afford electricity rates now. How could they possibly afford these rates on $3.55 an hour or even $4.05 an hour? Many guest workers have said that they no longer use air conditioning, and some have reported that they no longer have electricity. The residents of Saipan deal with constant unplanned power outages and planned revolving blackouts.

Food and Medical Care Rose Over 7% for 1st Quarter of 2008

While Governor Fitial fights to defeat further minimum wage increases, food prices rose 7.1 percent in the first three months of 2008, while medical costs rose 7.9 percent. According to the Marinas Variety:

"The figures under the food group included the CPI for beverages, breakfast cereal, milk, coffee, chicken, wine, full-service meals and snacks.

Medical care includes CPI on prescription drugs and medical supplies, physicians’ services, eyeglasses, eye care, and other hospital services."

Government Fees Doubled

"The 100 percent increase will be imposed on the renewal of vehicle operator’s license, taxicab driver’s license, chauffeur’s license, and learner’s permits, including but not limited to, replacement for duplicate, lost or stolen licenses; vehicle registration fees; boat registration fees; firearms licenses; fingerprinting fees per set; police report fees; safety sticker fees; copies of any public records maintained by DPS; and marriage license."

But that may not be the end of increases in public service. According to the article, the bill gave the governor "unlimited reprogramming authority to ensure continuity of essential public services."

“The Legislature further finds that the commonwealth government continues to face financial challenges as a result of the economic downturn and revenue collection decline; therefore, several fiscal measures must be taken to ensure continued delivery of essential public services to the people of the commonwealth,” the new law stated.

“One such measure is to provide the governor and other expenditure authorities with greater flexibility in reprogramming funds for the remainder of fiscal year 2008.”


KAP said...

You might be interested to learn that Max Sandlin used to work for Greenberg-Traurig.

Ron Hodges said...

Given our sorted history invloving lobbyists, what respectable firm would represent our current administration?

As I told chamber leadership early in 07, our commonwealth needs an international image makeover that has been tarnished for a generation with human rights abuse and stained by the greed of the textile industry. What we do not need is more crooked lobbyists and before we can proceed with the positive advertising campaign, we must make right what has long been wrong.