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SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, November 24) – Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Administration officials and lawmakers will meet early next week to come up with a strategic plan to counter a national wage hike bill that will include the Commonwealth.

House Speaker Oscar M. Babauta said the new U.S. congressional majority should be made to understand the detrimental effect that a wage hike could have on the CNMI's struggling economy.

"We will seek an amicable arrangement with our national Congress. Definitely, we will have to do some explaining. We will ask for greater consideration," Babauta said.

He added that government leaders will try to prepare not only for the wage increase plan, but also for the possibility of a federal takeover of the CNMI's labor and immigration system.

Washington Rep. Pete A. Tenorio said on Monday that the U.S. Democratic Party is likely to introduce the wage hike bill very early in the new U.S. Congress.

Tenorio reported that the bill now being prepared would gradually raise the local minimum wage rate from $3.05 to federal level. The increase would be done in 50-cent increments beginning six months after the bill is enacted until it reaches the federal rate, currently at $5.15 per hour.

"We have a very narrow window of opportunity to affect change in the House language, and it is imperative that we speak with a unified voice. We must provide alternative language now if we have any hope of it being incorporated into the House bill. There will be no chance to amend the language once the bill is introduced and I anticipate there will be no hearing on the bill," Tenorio warned acting Gov. Timothy P. Villagomez in a letter sent Monday, Nov. 20, 2006.

Acting Gov. Timothy P. Villagomez earlier said that he would form a task force to review the wage hike proposal and formulate the CNMI’s official position on the issue.

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