Propst: Impose additional tax on casino to fund CHCC

REPRESENTATIVE Ed Propst said imposing an additional tax on the Saipan casino will provide more funding to the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation.

“We have an opportunity right now to take care of the people through a simple tax,” he told the students in the Current Issues class at Northern Marianas College on Tuesday.

“What I am advocating is a decent gaming tax that will benefit every single person,” he added.

Edwin Propst

Propst said half the people in the CNMI live below federal poverty guidelines and most of them do not have health insurance.

“We have this issue that can be worked out with a simple tax…. I will push for a popular initiative for a 3 percent tax, 100 percent of which will go to CHCC. The bottom-line is we have to do everything we can to help CHCC. It is the only hospital that we have.”

He said his proposal “will address uncompensated care costs which were more than $13 million in 2017. You add the $10 million lost because we didn’t match for Medicaid — our 25 cents for every dollar — then we are looking at $23 million that CHCC lost in 2017 alone.”

He said the government has a lot of options to make things better for the hospital, though he doesn’t believe that his proposal will be enacted into law through the legislative process.

“That’s why we are discussing the possibility of…a popular initiative.”

According to the CNMI Constitution, the people can enact laws by initiative. “An initiative petition shall contain the full text of the proposed law. If the petition proposes a general law for the Commonwealth, the petition shall be signed by at least 20 percent of the persons qualified to vote in the Commonwealth.”

An initiative petition, moreover, “shall be filed with the attorney general for certification that the requirements…have been met.”

An initiative petition certified by the AG “shall be submitted to the voters at the next regular general election that is held at least 90 days from the date the petition has been certified.”

An initiative petition “shall become law if approved by two-thirds of the votes cast by persons qualified to vote in the Commonwealth.”

As of Dec. 2017, the election commission said the CNMI had 16,481 registered voters.

Propst said his concern is “we don’t know how long the casino industry is going to be here. We certainly hope that it will be here for a long time so that we will continue to enjoy the benefits of the gross-revenue tax and the supplemental budget. But we also have to realize that there’s nothing wrong with establishing an adequate and simple gaming tax. Other places in the world have gaming taxes but we don’t have one — it is a shame. It is something that we could change. We have a lot of missed opportunities because of that.”

Propst said his job as a representative is to get the best deal possible for the people.

However, because a popular initiative must be signed by a certain number of registered voters, “the timing is a challenge — we have to start in February.”

The CNMI will hold general elections in November.

Propst said a petition “is an option — I’m not saying that we will do it because it would take a strong effort by a group of people, not just myself, but several individuals working toward that goal. But if we were able to do that then it would be a good thing for everybody.”

Source: Marianas Variety :

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