House passes pay cut bill

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BY a vote of 16 to 4, the House of Representatives on Friday passed House Bill 21-109, which proposes to reduce the annual salaries of the CNMI’s top officials — except lawmakers.

It would also 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.

The bill, which now goes to the Senate, was authored by House Speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao who, in a previous interview, said that it would “level the playing field” in terms of budgeting.

Tina Sablan

But Rep. Christina Sablan said the bill is not clear, adding: “There is danger and harm in ambiguity.”

Sablan read a statement from a school principal who declined to be identified, urging legislators to vote against the bill’s passage.

“I can imagine supporting a rewritten version that is clear and unambiguous in its intent, language, and its actual impact, but this version…is not clear,” Sablan said. “Chances are that wherever we stand on this bill, it does not do what we think it will. We should already know that, in part because we all have widely varying interpretations of what this bill actually does. There are even more interpretations and questions outside of this body, in the general public, including among the people and institutions that this bill may or may not affect.”

She added, “Why are we interfering in public education yet again? This is political interference. Why does this bill single out the Public School System? Why mention PSS at all in this bill? Who do you intend to affect, and how? We do not really know for sure.”

She said several others might be affected by this bill, noting that the term “support staff” mentioned in the legislation is far too vague and confusing.

Sablan said the public defenders could be affected as well the mayors “in ways we cannot imagine — we cannot cut salary that has been earned. That is straight up illegal and unconstitutional.”

In terms of the bill’s supposed potential to generate revenue, Sablan said: “What revenue is generating at all? Even the Marianas Visitors Authority has been experiencing losses.”

Sablan proposed amendments, but the House still passed the bill. Besides Sablan, Reps. Sheila J. Babauta, Donald M. Manglona, and Janet U. Maratita voted against its passage.

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