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House floor leader: Proposed allowance is not additional funding

HOUSE Floor Leader John Paul P. Sablan on Friday explained that the allowance his ad hoc committee proposes for each House member will come from their own discretionary funds. They are not appropriating additional funding, he added.

John Paul P. Sablan

Rule 13, Section 10 of the proposed House rules merely authorizes the members to use $2,500 but not more than $5,000 of their discretionary fund as allowance.

Public Law 20-67, the government’s fiscal year 2019 budget, provides each lawmaker with a $90,000 discretionary fund which is used for office and other related expenses.  Lawmakers also receive an annual salary which used to be $39,300 but was reduced to $32,000 after a previous 70 percent pay-hike measure was declared unconstitutional by the CNMI Supreme Court.

According to the proposed House rules:

“A member of the House may use a portion of the funds under the member’s individual office account as an allowance of $2,500 but not more than $5,000 per month to defray the costs of food, lodging, and other incidental expenses related to community events and activities and other expenses incurred by reason of attending to legislative business in any senatorial district and outside the commonwealth.

“A representative may charge the member’s office account for (a) per diem to cover food and lodging, (b) ground transportation and (c) cost of airline transportation to attend legislative business in any senatorial district and outside the commonwealth. Cost of transportation for airfare and car rental shall be charged to the member’s office account through regular travel procedures,” the rules further states.

In an interview, Sablan said the proposal “mirrored” a 1999 Senate resolution that set each senator’s allowance at $5,000.

The Office of Public Auditor found that the allowance “seems unreasonable” given that “travel costs [for Saipan senators] should be less than that of Rota and Tinian senators as most legislative meetings are held in Saipan,” and “Saipan senators would need to make at least five round trips to Rota or Tinian each month to fully utilize a $1,000 allowance, and 11 rounds trips to utilize $2,000.”

Sablan said that was OPA’s legal opinion.

“No legal action was taken so we felt comfortable adopting the Senate rule,” he added, as he noted that at the time, each legislator could receive up to $155,000 in annual discretionary funds.

“Us, right now,  we each get $90,000 only,” he said as he reiterated that the proposed allowance is not an additional appropriation for lawmakers.

The other members of the ad hoc committee are Vice Speaker Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero and Rep. Joel C. Camacho.