Thursday, April 8, 2010

Town Meeting

3 mother hens and their tiny baby chicks this morning. Hot, hot this afternoon.

This is a belated report on the town meeting held by Kilili last evening at the Multi-Purpose Center. I was in attendance from about 5: 10 PM to about 7:10 PM. The meeting was in progress when I arrived and still going on when I left.

There weren't very many people there at first, but more gradually came as the evening went on. Still, in my opinion, the gathering was sparse. Maybe 50 people?

Kilili gave information on two major topics--education and health care.

On education, he made it clear that the threat to federal funds posed by the proposed/pending CNMI legislative austerity measure is real. He was very deferential to the power and authority of the local CNMI Legislature. He acknowledged that he has no power to make any decision with regard to the austerity measure. He can only act as a source of information about the federal programs and how such a measure may interact with them, to the extent our elected local leaders want that information.

He was also clear and certain of his facts: The $16 million figure is the amount that will be lost by PSS immediately upon enactment of the austerity measure as presently pending; and millions more would be lost over the next several years. [The measure itself would save only about $4 to $5 million, so there will be an immediate net loss of greater than $10 million.] The reason for this loss of federal funds would be the failure of the CNMI to live up to the "MOE" that the CNMI signed to get the funds. [Kilili said we may even have to pay back funds we've already received, but I don't recall him putting any number on that statement.]

In order to get the latest federal funds, the CNMI agreed it would not reduce its level of support for education, but would agree to a "mainenance of effort" (MOE). This does not meant that the amount of revenues from local coffers must remain unchanged in a declining economy; but it does mean that our budget percentage of support must remain the same.

The furlough Fridays that the Fitial administration favors could be accomplished as part of an austerity measure, but only if the austerity is "across the board" so that the PSS share of the budget stays the same. Instead, the current budget cuts education, but not public safety and public health, which means that the PSS share of the budget will be lower than when the CNMI signed the MOE agreement.

And thus, passage of this austerity measure will mean an instaneous loss of $16 million to PSS.

But our leaders don't believe this or don't want to believe this.

It must be very frustrating to work with politicians who think everything is a political ploy and a soft "fact" and everything is negotiable. Kilili mentioned how he has had meetings with CNMI local politicians in the Legislature (and I think he said the Executive branch), and that these people don't believe this threat is real. He tried to convince them by having a conference phone call with Department of Education officials in Washington, D.C., but the local politicians still refused to believe that their austerity measure would have devastating effects on PSS.

I want to say kudos to Kilili for trying; and it is also very gratifying to know that our PSS Board and administration are all intelligent enough and educated enough and capable of dealing with reality enough that they do recognize and understand the very real problems that the austerity measure as presently drafted would have.

In the end, it will be our innocent children who will suffer if this measure is passed; our kids who will lose untold educational benefits because of the ignorance of our Legislators and the gullibility of our electorate who voted them into office.

Perhaps our elected officials will wise up and we'll dodge this bullet. I hope so.

Health Care
Kilili tried valiantly to explain the Health Care Reform legislation that is now law in the US.

I can't say he did a great job or that I know anything much more than before, but what I did get from his presentation:

1. The health care reform bill goes into effect in 2014, although some provisions may be effective as early as 2011.

2. The mandatory provisions are (I think totally, or for the most part? but I could be wrong about this) not applicable in the CNMI.

3. We can have the opportunity to have a health care exchange program apply here, but this cannot happen unless the Governor agrees and acts to make it so.

4. A health care exchange program would provide a place where lawful residents and citizens (not illegal aliens) could get medical insurance. Each of the providers who join the exchange will offer insurance packages; and each package must have certain features but may offer other variables. People shop for their insurance at the exchange and providers offer their deals--and for people who are over Medicaid eligibility limits but still without the ability to pay full insurance premiums, they will pay to their ability (as set by rates and schedules, etc.) and the federal government will pay the difference. Kilili favors an exchange that would include Guam, Hawaii and even California-so that people could get advantages of a larger pool and have better coverage for lower rates.

5. Health care providers will not be able to deny insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions. They will not be able to charge women more than they charge men, or vice versa. The rate differences based on age and whether people smoke cigarettes must be within set parameters.

There was some grumbling from some in the audience about all of this. Kilili was very outspoken, though, in saying that all people need health insurance, and all employers should be willing to invest in their most valuable asset, their workers.

All in all, it was a good public forum. Kilili also spoke to how we need to air our concerns and opinions in a respectful way, especially about immigration and the foreign workers in the CNMI. He emphasized that through this kind of dialogue we could reach a concensus that would provide the best decisions and policies on the issues.

Very well said.


Captain said...

As usual these elected are in denial,even when it comes up and hits them in the face.
They have an illogical reason behind it.

Saipan Writer said...

It's not only our elected leaders who take this approach.

I see it among people who just feel overwhelmed with having to think about things. They'd rather not! They'd rather just try something, without giving too much advance consideration to what might happen.

When you can't figure things out, sometimes you just have to try things. It's not a bad survival mechanism.

But when it's just the easy way out, because thinking is too much work or leads to realizations the people don't like, that's when I find it extremely frustrating and upsetting.

And of course, we'd like to have leaders who aren't afraid to use their brains.