Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Community Education--House Legislative Initiative 16-18

On the November ballot, voters in the CNMI will be asked to consider three proposed amendments to the CNMI Constitution. Here is information on one of them: House Legislative Initiative 16-18.

HLI 16-18

This legislative initiative amends Article XI, section 5(g) of the CNMI Constitution by adding a new phrase The new provision authorizes the “corporation” (I think this means now the Department of Public Lands) to use up to 20% of its revenues for land compensation claims before transferring its funds to the Marianas Public Land Trust.

PROS: The provision attempts to address the long-standing problem of unpaid claims for private land that has been taken by the government for public use. It does this by authorizing use of up to 20% of income from public lands each year for payment on these obligations before the money is transferred to the MPLT for investment and savings.

This provision identifies a source of money that is related to public lands to be used for payment for private lands that have been acquired for public use.

It also protects the income stream from those private lands by limiting the amount that can be taken to 20%

It has a stated purpose of allowing such income to be used to pay on court judgments for land compensation claims, to overcome past arguments against such use.

CONS: Although the provision authorizes the possible use of income from public lands, it does not require that such income be used or that any land compensation claim actually be paid.

There is no factual basis stated in the initiative to support the cap of 20%. This figure seems to be arbitrary and it is impossible to discern whether it is reasonable, too high or too low.

The 20% cap relates to revenue. It is unclear what the intent and effect of the language means: does it apply to net revenue after the corporation has retained necessary amounts for reasonable expenses, etc., or does it refer to gross revenues, calculated on all income the corporation receives?

It is also unclear whether the addition of this provision to the Constitution will allow litigants who are owed land compensation to compel the corporation to pay their judgments unless the corporation can show it has already reached the 20% cap.

SUMMARY: The Legislative Initiative amends the CNMI Constitution to provide authorization to use up to 20% of income from public lands to pay land compensation claims. It does not compel any payment. The 20% cap is not related to any identifiable plan, scheme or budget that is set forth in the initiative.

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