CNMI Attorney General Files Lawsuit Over Legality Of Pay Increases

AG seeks declaratory judgment, calling salary hikes 'unconstitutional'

By Bryan Manabat

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Feb. 10, 2017) – The Office of the Attorney General on Thursday filed a lawsuit for a declaratory judgment against the salary increases for the members of the CNMI Legislature, the lt. governor, and the governor.

Attorney General Edward Manibusan brought the lawsuit in his official capacity as the chief legal officer of the commonwealth on Thursday, and he named Department of Finance Secretary Larissa Larson in her official capacity as defendant.

Manibusan applied for a preliminary injunction and permanent injunctions to prevent the secretary of Finance from implementing the pay-hike law, P.L. 19-83, which he said is unconstitutional.

“It is my duty as chief legal officer of the commonwealth to enforce the NMI Constitution,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to the court hearing our arguments with respect to the manner these salaries may be adjusted, and holding the legislature accountable to the limitations imposed upon them by the Constitution.”

According to Manibusan, legislative compensation recommendations should be based on an “accepted composite index.”

He said in April 1985, the CPI if applied would have limited the salary for each lawmaker to $13,683.20 but it was instead established by P.L. 4-32 at $30,000 and was therefore unconstitutional.

Manibusan said the subsequent legislative salary increases enacted did not use a price index based upon the constitutional maximum. He said the advisory commission used the previous salaries as a starting point for application of its increase then proceeded to recommend an even higher amount.

“All of the adjustments to the salary of the Legislature since 1978 have exceeded an accepted index, and by basing each new adjustment on a previous (yet improper) increase, the salaries for the Legislature, established in Public Law 19-83 greatly exceed the maximum allowed by the CPI since 1978,” said Manibusan.

Because each of the salary increases for the Legislature since the establishment of the commonwealth have violated the constitutional provisions, and because each salary increase has built upon a previous unconstitutional salary increase all salary increases are unconstitutional,” the AG added.

He also noted that the advisory commission, which recommended the pay hikes, included ineligible members which render its recommendation void.

Members of the Legislature may not serve on independent commissions established by commonwealth law, said Manibusan.

Yet four lawmakers served on the advisory commission: Sen. Jude Hofschneider, Sen. Sixto Igisomar, Rep. Joseph Leepan Guerrero and then-Rep. Antonio P. Sablan

“Because legislators may not serve on independent commissions, the composition of the P.L. 19-51 commission was prohibited by the NMI Constitution,” the AG reiterated.

Manibusan said since the advisory commission membership was unconstitutional, its recommendations are void, and since the requirements of the CNMI Constitution were not met, the legislative salary increase found in P.L. 19-83 is unconstitutional.

Manibusan added that the advisory commission’s recommendation for executive compensation is also unconstitutional because the membership of the advisory commission is illegal.

Manibusan asked the Superior Court for an order declaring certain sections of P.L. 19-83, P.L. 7-31 and P.L. 4-32 unconstitutional.

He also wants the court to order that a lawmaker’s legal salary should be $8,000 a year.

Under P.L. 19-83, which was authored by Speaker Ralph S. Demapan, the governor’s annual pay will be increased from $70,000 to $120,000; the lt. governor, from $60,000 to $100,000; mayors, $43,000 to $75,000; and legislators, $39,000 to $70,000.

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