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Teresita Santos, Stanley Torres join others in 16-hour pay cut

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Sept. 30, 2011) - Two of 29 members of the 17th Legislature have taken the lead in voluntarily cutting their paychecks starting Oct. 1 in solidarity with hundreds of government employees who will continue to receive a 16-hour pay cut every two weeks and unpaid holidays in fiscal year 2012.

They are Rep. Teresita Santos (Ind-Rota) and Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan).

A third lawmaker, Senate floor leader Pete Reyes (R-Saipan), continues to have his full salary directed to the CNMI Scholarship Office. He receives retirement benefits.

Santos (Ind-Rota) said yesterday she will continue to voluntarily cut her salary by 16 hours in fiscal year 2012, the way she did since April 2010.

Santos is donating 16 hours of her biweekly salary to the Rota Municipal Scholarship Fund.

"As we are all aware, the education of our children, our most precious and valuable resource, is of paramount importance as they hold the key to a promising future and are driving force behind all that we do," Santos said.

Torres said he will also cut his salary by 10 percent beginning Oct. 1, also in solidarity with other government employees.

Hundreds of government employees have been working just 64 hours biweekly since last year as part of the Fitial administration's austerity measures due to declining government revenue.

These work hour cuts and unpaid holidays will continue under the US$102 million budget law for fiscal year 2012.

Lawmakers, along with the governor, lieutenant governor, judges and justices, have constitutionally protected salaries. Their wages are exempt from cuts during periods of austerity. However, they could always subject themselves to voluntary pay cut, like what Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos have been doing.

Cabinet members and department heads have already been receiving reduced salaries.

As early as April 2010, the Senate passed three legislative initiatives seeking to amend the Constitution to lift the salary cut exemptions for the governor, the lieutenant governor, lawmakers, judges and justices when austerity holidays or other reduced work hour legislation are applied to government workers.

The initiatives, introduced by Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota), have yet to pass the House.

Lawmakers each receive a salary of US$39,300 a year, on top of their office allocation and committee chairmanship funds if they are part of the leadership. The governor receives US$70,000 a year, while the lieutenant governor gets US$60,000. Justices and judges each make US$130,000 and US$126,000, respectively, a year.

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