Bill to reduce salaries of governor, other officials

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LEGISLATION has been introduced in the House of Representatives to reduce the annual salaries of the CNMI’s top officials — except lawmakers.

Currently, the governor receives $120,000 per annum; the lieutenant governor, $100,000; chief justice, $130,000; associate justice, $126,000; presiding judge, $123,000; associate judge, $120,000; attorney general, $130,000; mayor, $75,000; and lawmaker, $32,000.

House Bill 21-109 proposes a return to the pay schedule of Public Law 7-31 which was enacted in 1991: governor, $70,000 per annum; lieutenant governor, $60,000; mayor, $43,000; lawmaker, $39,000; chief justice, $82,000; associate justice, $79,000; presiding judge, $76,000; associate judge, $72,400; and attorney general, $54,000.

H.B. 21-109’s proposed salary reductions are in addition to the 28.3% across-the-board cut that Gov. Ralph DLG Torres implemented in response to a steep drop in the government’s projected revenue.

The bill would likewise suspend for the remainder of the fiscal year the pay raise granted by the Board of Education to Public School System personnel, except teachers, teacher aides, counselors, bus drivers, school support staff, and other government employees who receive the minimum wage.

In addition, the bill exempts federally funded employees from salary cuts, and suspends all outside the CNMI travels, except medical referrals, federally funded trips, and travels “that will directly benefit the Commonwealth.”

House Bill 21-109 is expected to be placed on the House session calendar for action at 1 p.m., today, Friday.

It was introduced by Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao and co-sponsored by Vice Speaker Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero, House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan, House Minority Leader Edwin Propst, Reps. Sheila Babauta, Roman Benavente, Ivan Blanco, Joel Camacho, Luis John Castro, Joseph Flores, Joseph Leepan Guerrero, Jose Itibus, Richard Lizama, Marco Peter, Edmund Villagomez, and Ralph Yumul.

The lawmakers issued the following separate statements on Thursday:

Attao: “The [bill] will cut salaries of certain elected and appointed positions — those that are making substantially more than the rest. We expressly exempted everyone making minimum wage. Unfortunately, we can’t stop the reduction of hours because that is the administration’s decision, but we can reverse the recent salary increases that have had an overall negative impact.”

He added, “We can’t control external factors that adversely affect our economy, but we can take control over internal matters. Raising salaries was one thing when we had the funds, but now that the CNMI really needs the money, reducing hours alone doesn’t address the inequity caused by the raises. You can’t save money by raising salaries substantially and reducing hours minimally.”

Peter: “We came together, as a bipartisan body, to find solutions. It may not be ideal, but the salary cuts do not apply to civil service employees, teachers, teacher aides, instructors, counselors, bus drivers, and school support staff. It protects them expressly.”

Vice Speaker Deleon Guerrero: “We can’t control the cuts that the administration is making now, but this bill will help prevent further cuts down the road by freeing up some money. Reducing salaries will benefit the general revenues available for PSS.”

Leepan Guerrero: “Although a significant number of elected officials are constitutionally protected, they can always volunteer to make personal tough decisions to cut their own salaries — to share the burden and not avoid it.”

Blanco: “Cutting the higher salaries may result in a savings that can then be utilized by the CNMI government and PSS to mitigate the economic harms caused by the lack of revenue.”

Yumul: “We took this approach, as opposed to revising the CNMI budget because this process would have a more immediate effect. By the time we go through the process of revising the budget, getting revised projections, doing the concurrent resolutions, passing the House version and then the Senate version, meeting at a conference committee, it will be at least June. And by then, we will be working on the FY 2021 budget.”

When the administration first informed the Legislature about the significant reduction in the government’s revenue projection, key lawmakers said the governor could exercise his emergency powers and implement across-the-board budget cuts.

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