By Troy Torres
(Tumon, Guam) Gov. Ralph Torres will be withholding payments to Commonwealth retirees, and he's blaming public school teachers and employees for his actions.
"I am saddened to inform you that starting with the next scheduled payment on April 15, 2020, the CNMI government will be unable to obtain the necessary funding to provide for the 25% cover payments to government retirees, surviving spouses and minor children. I have agonized over this decision and have exhausted as much avenues as possible. Unfortunately, under the circumstances before us, these efforts were simply not enough." - Excerpt from Mr. Torres's letter
In an open letter to retirees, surviving spouses, and minor children beneficiaries Sunday, Mr. Torres rationalizes his decision to withhold the legally-mandated 25 percent cover payment by telling the beneficiaries that the financial predicament is the result of a lawsuit by the Board of Education to pay teachers their salaries.
The governor actually singled out the board members who voted to file the lawsuit: Phillip Mendiola Long, Marylou Ada, and Andrew Orsini.
"Because of the lawsuit, my hands are tied and any ability I had to guarantee you your funds has now been stripped away. You have seen this government’s efforts to keep our promise to you. Since the judgment was issued in Johnson v. Inos, Case No. CV-09-0023 in 2013, this government has paid you 100% of your benefits, retroactively paid you for the time you started receiving 75% and provided bonuses for 3 consecutive years in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Collectively, this government has paid a total of $328,708,089.08 for your benefits. Of that amount, $225,523,657.57 was paid to the Settlement Fund as our obligation under the settlement agreement while $103,184,431.51 was paid to retirees to cover the 25% difference in pension benefits." - Excerpt from Mr. Torres's letter
In a nutshell, if he didn't have to pay teachers what the law demands, then he'd be able to pay retirees.
The governor's financial mismanagement of the Commonwealth treasury that is the source of this inability to pay began way before the Coronavirus crisis and, ironically, during a time he and his administration claimed surpluses and firm financial footing.
In the advent of the announcement of his second austerity program this year, Mr. Torres targeted public schools for severe cutbacks in cash allocations, contrary to the Commonwealth's Constitution. The second austerity program followed the lifting of the first austerity round in November 2019, fresh off the heels of federal raids into Mr. Torres's office and home, and the law firm of his brothers.
Sen. Paul Manglona, the independent minority members of the Commonwealth House of Representatives, and Rep. Ralph Yumul have been demanding financial transparency from the governor since the start of the 21st Commonwealth Legislature, but to no avail. Among the demands for information have included the use of the Community Benefit Fund through which casino money owed to the Commonwealth are to flow to the benefit of the people.
An accounting of the governor's personal spending sprees also has been held in abeyance by the Republican leaders of the House.