No Funds To Pay For CNMI Government Salary Increase

Raises on hold until funding source can be identified

By Jon Perez 

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 26, 2017) – The salary increase of Commonwealth elected officials is on hold until a funding source is identified.

House Bill 19-3 HS1 HD1, an act to enact a new base salary schedule and increase the salary ceiling for classified civil service government employees and all elected officials, is now Public Law 19-83.

The elected officials referred to in the law are the governor, lieutenant governor, representatives, senators, and the four municipal mayors (Saipan, Northern Islands, Tinian and Aguiguan, and Rota).

House Bill 19-3 HS1 HD1 became law on Jan. 20 even without being signed either by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, who was off- island attending the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, or Senate President Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan) who was acting governor at the time. Torres is expected to be back on Saipan this weekend.

The House passed HB 19-3—introduced by Speaker Rafael S. Demapan (R-Saipan)—on Nov. 29; the Senate also passed it on Dec. 6. It was transmitted to the Governor’s Office on Dec. 12 where it awaited Torres’ signature.

The CNMI Constitution states, though, that “the governor shall have 20 days in which to consider an appropriation bills and 40 days in which to consider other bills. If the governor fails either to sign or veto a bill within the applicable period it shall become a law.”

The 20 and 40 days mentioned on the CNMI Constitution are calendar days and there are instances that bills become laws during weekends, according to the administration.

Rep. Angel A. Demapan (R-Saipan), the House Ways and Means chairman, said that PL 19-83 has been enacted. The actual increase, however, has been put on hold until a source of funding is identified.

“As it stands today, PL 19-83, is enacted without any funding source for the new salary levels of elected officials. There will be no actual increase in salary paid to any elected official until the governor can identify new revenues available for appropriation,” Demapan told Saipan Tribune in a text message.

“This means that all elected officials will continue to be paid at the previous salary amounts despite the enactment of this law.”

In the last Legislature, the House made several supplemental appropriations after Torres signed the budget for fiscal year 2017. The business gross revenue taxes partly funded the appropriations.
 
An incentive

Speaker Demapan said raising the salaries of public servants to federal standards is an incentive, especially among rank-and-file government workers. It would also give incoming workers that would start at Pay Level 1 more incentive, he said. This also goes to elected officials where the pay raise would attract more qualified candidates to consider having a career in public service.

The bill drew a lot of flak when it was still being considered. “There’s much resistance and attack to those of us who supported this measure but I stand firm [on PL 19-83]. It is the right and timely thing to do for our public servants today and in the future,” said Demapan.

“Not to compete with the private sector but I believe it can also contribute to increasing the morale and retention of our public servants and also attract a more competitive and qualified body of workers and elected officials. This is especially so for elected positions,” he added.

“I hope this measure will attract our people—especially our professionals, both on-island and off-island—to serve in an elected capacity. As honorable as the position is, I personally don’t see my elected position as a long-term career and I’m sure most of my colleagues feel the same. Our time is limited and I hope new and fresh minds are incentivized by this measure and step up to the plate like we have.”

Demapan said most elected officials sacrifice a lot when entering public service. “This is also not common knowledge but most elected officials, especially from my experiences as a representative, have sacrificed better paying jobs and business opportunities in order to serve our people in such a capacity,” said Demapan.

“Aside from the pay cut, there are also many out-of-pocket expenses that comes with being a legislator and surely the same goes for being a governor, lieutenant governor, and mayor in order to further help our people. This includes medical referral fundraiser expenses, attending and donating to community functions, funerals, and helping families in need, to name a few.”
 
Minorities’ concerns

Minority leader Rep. Edmund S. Villagomes (Ind-Saipan) said the close to 80 percent pay hike of all elected officials remains one of the concerns that they raised during the House session on Nov. 29.

“In my opinion, it is an unconstitutional bill. On top of that, if I’m not mistaken, it may be an unfunded liability. It is a pretty big jump, unlike some low-income employees who will only have a 5-percent increase,” said Villagomez, who was one of five lawmakers who voted against the bill.

Saipan representatives Blas Jonathan T. Attao, Edwin K. Propst, and Vinnie F. Sablan, and former lawmaker Ralph N. Yumul were the other members of the minority that voted no to HB 19-3.

Villagomez suggested that it would have been more appropriate to take care of other obligations.

He said incumbent elected officials should not become a member of the Advisory Commission on Elected Official’s Compensation, the group that conducted the study on the elected officials’ salaries in the mainland and other territories.

“In my opinion, to have elected officials as members of the committee, is not right. Voting on it is already a conflict of interest.”

Elected offivials on the committee were Sens. Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) and Sixto K. Igisomar (R-Saipan), and Rep. Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero (R-Saipan), and former representative Antonio P. Sablan.

Former Senate president Pete P. Reyes, Office of the Governor special assistant for management and budget Virginia C. Villagomez, and Saipan Chamber of Commerce secretary Alex A. Sablan were the other members.

Saipan Tribune
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