Marianas Variety

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    Tuesday, August 21, 2018-9:42:04A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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OPINION: 35-cent pay hike

RECENTLY, my chief of staff Vince Camacho and I had a meeting with a group of civil service employees who met with us to discuss their frustrations with the 5 percent pay increase they were promised.

As they explained, they have only been receiving about a 2.5 percent salary increase. One of them told me their 2.5 percent pay increase translated to a 35-cent hourly raise, or $2.80 per day, or about $28 more per paycheck, hardly enough to have really any financial impact on his family.

They also expressed concern about new hires who are receiving higher pay than them, even though some recent hires do not have any work experience, as some of these recent hires were straight out of high school.

They brought their complaints to management, and so far, their grievances have not been remedied, and no real explanations have been given.

Even though they are civil service employees, they are still fearful of repercussions from their complaints, so I will keep their identities private.

What I did tell this group of civil service workers was that they were not alone. I have recently met with several other government employees who have expressed their frustration of not receiving any increase at all, as they were told they were “not included” since they are LTE’s, or limited term employees, or that they only have one-year or two-year contracts.

In this robust economy, an economy that is so prosperous that it allows elected officials to give themselves 80 percent pay increases and a lifetime pension for governors and lt. governors who did not even serve one full term in their position (while the rest of our people will have to wait until they are 67 years old to retire), we have families who are barely living paycheck to paycheck.

In 2004, the CNMI household median income was $17,138. In 2016, it was $19,201. Over a period of 12 years, the CNMI saw only a $2,000 increase in household median income, which is really no increase, or maybe even a decrease, if you adjust for inflation. Of course, in the United States, the household median income is $59,000.

Over half of our people, a whopping 56 percent of our CNMI population, still live well below federal poverty guidelines. 46 percent of adults living in the CNMI have absolutely no health insurance. Last week, Vince Camacho and I met with an elderly couple who are both disabled and received a utility bill that is so high, they are not sure how they are going to be able to pay for it, as they still have to buy their medicine and ensure they have enough money left over to buy groceries to eat. And speaking of food, when it comes to food stamp recipients, the numbers have actually increased. In 2005, we had 7,513 food stamp recipients in the CNMI. In 2015, we had 8,500 food stamp recipients.

NMTI, the only technical trades institute in the CNMI that is able to train locals to become culinary experts, plumbers, electricians, construction workers, carpenters, and so forth, was on the verge of becoming a public entity through S.B. 20-21. One of the greatest benefits of NMTI becoming a public institution is that it would be able to receive federal student grants, such as the Perkins grant and the Pell grant. Even though the Senate and the House unanimously voted in favor of NMTI becoming a public institution to train our people, it was vetoed because of financial concerns. The fact is, the amount of money that taxpayers are going to have to pay each year for 80 percent salary increases for 35 elected officials would easily be enough to fund NMTI. There are close to 600 local students taking courses at NMTI and only 35 elected officials that will benefit from the 80 percent salary increase. Which would you rather see your taxes go to? Investing in training 600 students, or giving 80 percent salary increases to 35 elected officials? The choice is yours. Even though both the Senate and House unanimously voted in favor of S.B. 20-21, there will be no override of the veto.

When it comes to ensuring that we are paying our front-line workers their small 5 percent salary increases that they were promised through P.L. 19-83, we must look beyond politics. We must also be on the same page when it comes to investing in building our local capacity through institutes like NMTI. I have done enough house visits and met with enough families to know that in this great economy, it is not enough to boast about how much money we have in the CNMI. We all must ensure that CNMI leaders are being fiscally conservative when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars, and that we are doing all we can to invest in the CNMI’s greatest resource: our people. Thank you and God bless.