Monday, September 27, 2010

There is No Government Shutdown

Whether or not the governor signs a budget bill by Friday, there will be no government shutdown. The Marianas Variety reports today that should Governor Fitial fail to sign a budget bill passed by the House and the Senate, 767 'nonessential' employees will be sent home. The CNMI government employs over 5000 people, and that number does not include the hundreds and possibly thousands of people under contract (the janitors in every government office and public school, not to mention a whole cadre of consultants). Even ignoring the number of people under contract, the percentage of government workers who will lose their salary because of an imminent shutdown is under 15% of the total.

That is not a government shutdown. It is a government slowdown, at best.

15% may seem like a lot, but take into account that the number of government employees is at an all-time high. Last year the Marianas Variety reported that 1200 workers had been hired in the lead up to the 2009 election. I know some have accused the Variety of lazy reporting with that story, but even using half that number is roughly equal to the number of people who will lose their income during the government shutdown.

The government shutdown will in essence bring the CNMI government back in line with pre-election spending.

I am heavily emphasizing that my conclusions are based on the reporting of the Marianas Variety. Therefore it stands that if those stories and the information contained within them are inaccurate, my conclusions will be off. However, the 1200 number comes directly from Mark Aguon of the CNMI Retirement Fund and the 767 number comes straight from Oscar Babauta, Secretary of the Department of Public Lands.

This is not a criticism; it is only an observation.

The government shutdown will be extremely difficult for the 15% of government employees that are affected, but it will have very little effect on the economy or overall government services, other than destroying morale, perhaps. I remember that during the bi-weekly government furloughs in 2006, most, if not all, of the workers who were supposed to be working did not go to work. The entire Legislature, which had exempted itself from the furloughs, was closed for business, but almost every member was still drawing a salary, all from the comfort of home. I predict the same thing will happen with the government shutdown on Friday. Although 85% of the government is supposed to be at work, I'm sure many of them will be at home.

Again, this is not a criticism. It is simply an observation and a prediction.

The government shutdown will also not be felt by the large number of people double dipping into the CNMI Retirement Fund: people drawing salary and retirement. Sure, they might lose their salary if they are on the unfortunate 'nonessential' list, but they will still get their retirement benefits. Also, most of the Legislature is retired, meaning that they choose to draw a higher retirement salary instead of the rather meager Legislature salary. They essentially work for free, drawing only a retirement pension (there are other perks to being a lawmaker other than salary). Again, the government shutdown will not affect them one bit.

Speaking of the retirement fund, it is one of the main causes of this debacle. One of the directors at an unnamed local agency just retired. He is 37. And he'll draw a huge pension for the rest of his life.

I don't have a lot of sympathy for retirees when I hear stories like that. Nor do I have sympathy when I hear about the near-death retiree who adopts all of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren on his death bed, so that the kids can draw pension benefits until they turn 18. Doing so has almost become Chamorro custom.

Abuse, greed, and graft has put the CNMI in this position. And the chickens are coming home to roost. Unfortunately, the people at the bottom of the totem pole are going to feel the impacts the hardest, which is really hard to watch. This is shameful and sad.



The Marianas Variety today reports that the number of employees to be furloughed is over 1400. I wonder what that number will be tomorrow?

UPDATE: 10/5/2010

The Saipan Tribune reports that only 1000 people have been furloughed, about equal to the number of people that were hired in the lead up to the 2009 election.

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