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By Moneth G. Deposa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Mariana Variety, Jan. 10) - Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Governor Benigno R. Fitial has instructed Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Villagomez and members of his cabinet to immediately fly to Washington, D.C. and personally meet with U.S. congressional leaders and other federal officials.

[PIR editor’s note: CNMI political and business leaders are alarmed by a Bill before the U.S. Congress that would raise the federal minimum wage from the current $5.15 an hour to $7.25. A move was afoot last week to seek the creation of a federal wage board to look into the feasibility of such a wage hike in the Northern Marianas, which is near bankruptcy. The current minimum wage in the CNMI is $3.05.]

Press Secretary Charles P. Reyes Jr. yesterday said Fitial met with Villagomez, Finance Secretary Eloy Inos and Attorney General Matthew Gregory to discuss the trip to Washington.

"The governor ordered the urgent travel to Washington," Reyes said. "The Lieutenant Governor will be going to D.C. sooner than we expected to meet with congressional staffers. This is not for the (congressional) hearing but is more urgent and immediate than the hearing. The governor wants direct and immediate communication with the congressional members," Reyes said.

He added that the governor is heeding the advice of Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs David Cohen who urged for the "CNMI’s immediate direct presence" in the nation’s capital.

Villagomez was supposed to travel later this month or in February for the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on the local immigration system.

"The governor wants our officials to get appointments (with members of Congress) as early as they can to discuss the many critical issues about CNMI wages and immigration policies," Reyes said.

Reyes said that although more delegates from the CNMI will help, the administration does not have enough funding.

"As to the members of the Legislature, they’re always free to go if they want to," he said.

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