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SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Aug. 1)—The CNMI has been cut from the Republican-sponsored minimum wage hike bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives over the weekend, according to special assistant for economic affairs Richard A. Pierce.

The bill, H.R. 5970, hurdled the House on a vote of 230-180.

"During deliberation, and before H.R. 5970 was on the House floor, it was decided not to include the CNMI in the minimum wage section of the House version," said Pierce, who just got back from Washington D.C.

He said Democrat congressman George Miller was ready to move to recommit the CNMI within the wage section, "but it was decided by the majority to not allow this to be accomplished, and his attempt failed."

"Frankly, I'd like to believe that, once the members of Congress were acquainted with the fact that the CNMI is having trouble paying for fuel to keep its lights on, and CNMI businesses are not ready to be forced to incur greater operational costs, they decided it's not in anyone's best interests to raise wage rates at this time," said Pierce.

The bill aims to increase the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 over three years.

The House Democrats led by Miller earlier introduced a separate bill, specifically seeking to increase the minimum wage and extend federal immigration control in the Northern Marianas.

Pierce said the CNMI cannot afford any wage hike this time.

"Any wage rate hike must be borne by way of either a private, or public, entity. The CNMI government cannot meet its obligations now. Private industry needs to reduce its cost of doing business, not increase it. Up until the economy is capable of withstanding higher labor costs, or until government can reduce tax burden to the extent labor demands are increased for private businesses, there cannot be any further cost burden to those that would shoulder the cost of raising minimum wage rates," Pierce said.

H.R. 5970, or the Minimum Wage Competitiveness Act of 2006, introduced by Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and 13 other Republicans, seeks to raise the minimum wage from the current rate of $5.15 an hour to $7.15 an hour one year and 60 days after the enactment of the bill. Minimum wage legislation has previously been introduced by House Democrats, and in the Senate.

H.R. 5970 is said to be the first minimum wage hike passed in a decade, after pairing it with a cut to the estate tax, which reportedly came following intense lobbying by farmers, small business owners and super-wealthy families.

The bill is expected to cause problems in the Senate where the Democrats are opposed to costly estate tax cuts. The Senate is due to debate the bill next week and it also includes other tax cuts that are estimated to cost about $310 billion over the next decade.

August 1, 2006

Saipan Tribune

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