CNMI House Passes Salary Increase Bill For Government Officials

Top civil servants, legislators, Governor, Lt. Governor could get up to 80% raise

By Cherrie Anne E. Villahermosa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Nov. 30, 2016) – The House of Representatives on Tuesday voted 15 to 5 pass the amended salary-increase measure which includes an 80 percent pay hike for top government officials.

House Bill 19-3 proposes “to enact a new base-salary schedule for classified civil service government employees pursuant to 1 CMC Sections 8124 (g) and 8133; to increase the salary ceiling for classified civil service government employees; and to amend 1 CMC Section 8244 and 1 CMC Section 1271 to increase the compensation for the governor, lt. governor and members of the Legislature.”

The five members who voted no were Reps. Blas Jonathan Attao, Vinnie Sablan, Edwin Propst, Edmund Villagomez and Ralph Yumul.

They questioned the constitutionality of the measure, adding that the bill is trying to address the circumstances of two different groups: classified civil service employees and elected officials.

Under the law, they added, a bill must confine itself to only one area of concern at a time.

Speaker Ralph Demapan introduced an earlier version of the measure which the Legislature passed, but the governor asked that the House recall it and address some legal concerns.

The House then recalled the bill and passed it on Tuesday with amendments based on the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Elected Official Compensation.

The commission was created by Public Law 19-51 to “review” the compensation of the governor, lt. governor, mayors, legislators, justices and judges.

The commission has seven members: Sen. Jude Hofschneider, Sen. Sixto Igisomar, Rep. Leepan Guerrero, Rep. Antonio Sablan, former Sen. Pete Reyes, Virginia Villagomez of the Office of Management and Budget and Tan Holdings’ Alex A. Sablan who served as its chairman.

In its Nov.10, 2016 report, the commission said after studying relevant data, research and calculations, and applying compensation principles, it is recommending that the governor’s salary should be $120,000; the lt. governor, $100,000; mayors, $75,000; and legislators, $70,000.

In 1977 the salary of the governor was $20,000 and it was increased to $50,000 in 1985 and to $70,000 in 1991, the last increase so far. The lt. governor used to receive $18,000 which was increased to $40,000 and $60,000.

The mayors received $12,000 which was increased to $21,000 and $43,000 while legislators originally got $8,000 which was increased to $30,000 and $39,000.

The chief justice was getting $82,200 in 1991 which was increased to $130,000 in 1993 while the justices’ salary was increased from $79,000 to $126,000; and the presiding judge, from $76,000 to $123,000. An associate judge received $38,000 in 1978, $44,000 in 1985, $72,400 in 1991 and $120,000 starting in 1993.

Speaker Demapan on Tuesday offered a floor amendment to include these salary increases in the bill. The amendment was adopted and 15 members approved the amended measure which now goes to the Senate.

Rep. BJ Attao said he voted no because he believes the bill will be a funding liability and is unconstitutional since it deals with two subjects.

Rep. Ed Propst said the salary increase for elected officials should be a separate bill.

“My [other] concern is, we’re giving a 5 percent increase to all civil service and government employees, but we are giving ourselves an 80 percent increase. How is that? It doesn’t seem fair especially to those critical employees like police officers who only got $8 per hour and do not receive night differentials. I feel that we still have a lot of debts and our focus should be on paying our obligations rather than giving huge increases. There are still families whose claims have not been settled and there are agencies that are unfunded and here we are, getting an 80 percent increase. Let’s take care first of our moral obligations. When we were elected into this office, we knew that we would only be getting $39,000.”

According to Rep. Edmund Villagomez: “There are many issues in it. You can look at the constitutionality of the amendment. It’s like a 10-subject bill. So many ‘ands’ and ‘ands’ in the title to add another amendment and there are two subjects in one bill. I have nothing against giving a salary increase to civil service employees, but for elected officials, I think it’s a big jump. It should be gradual, and there are so many obligations that need to be taken care of first.”

Rep. Vinnie Sablan said “Article 2, Section 5 (b) of the Commonwealth Code says that [a bill] should confine itself to one subject only so I asked the legal counsel if the inclusion of the amendment abides by Article 2 Section 5 (b) and the legal counsel admitted that there are two subjects. Of course anyone can justify the increase but the timing is what concerns me. We should take care of every group of employees in the government, from the bottom up, and once everyone is receiving their adjustment then that’s the time that we should take care of ourselves. We cannot make ourselves happy while the others are still waiting for their adjustments. The police officers, did they get their 5 percent increase already? No. They are still waiting, so it’s not fair to take care of ourselves first.”

Rep. Ralph Yumul said: “I am an advocate of strong fiscal planning and controlled government spending. We should focus on our land compensation, CUC and general obligations and not on increasing our salaries. I want the administration and the Legislature to settle our debts and address our obligations rather than thinking of our own pockets.”

He added, “I voted no because of the two topics in the bill itself and the unfunded liability the legislative body will create. We should pay government liabilities first. Instead this body chose to reward themselves. But I’m not against increasing civil service pay because it’s way overdue.”

Rep. Antonio Sablan, who also introduced a separate bill proposing to increase the salaries of appointed officials, said the administration is taking care of the government’s obligations and the needs of its employees.

“We are trying to balance everything. We are setting aside funding to settle our debts and to pay our landowners and we are also setting aside funds for the 5 percent increase for all government employees, so now we should also take care of government officials,” he said.

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I've read this a while back, and I've yet to understand the logic behind this attempt at a huge pay raise. These are the reasons why I don't understand the logic behind this huge pay raise: The CNMI has not reached the federal minimum wage that was supposedly to have been reached back in 2014, yet this is still being postponed and delayed even further by the "government officials", and for many logical reasons, like how business owners won't be able to deal with the salary increase. There are still problems concerning the fact that foreign workers (guest workers) are in the process of being phased out, supposedly by the end of 2018. Reading the newspapers every now and then, job vacancies flood the classified section with positions that a huge majority of the CNMI citizens don't even qualify for. The future of the CNMI is being lead towards a sad and sorry place. An example would be the arrival of the casino, where majority of the CNMI voted against the casino, but the "government officials" decided to go against the voices of the people, and welcomed the casino overnight while everyone was asleep. Now, Garapan Elementary School will have to relocate because the environment that they were situated in for so long has grown into a place that pollutes education. There are still many unpaid debts of the government, and the CNMI is still in a state that one cannot say will end up well. All this and the one solution that the "government officials" can think of is to give themselves an 80% pay raise... Not only is this unconstitutional, but it is also unethical, and borderline immoral. Wake up CNMI.

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