The U.S. Government Accountability Office has begun working on a new CNMI minimum wage increase impact survey, even as the Commonwealth waits whether the U.S. House of Representatives will pass a bill delaying this year’s scheduled 50-cent minimum wage hike on Sept. 30.
This week’s congressional debate on Syria may sideline S. 256 or the CNMI wage hike delay and submerged lands bill.
GAO, the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress, has an April 2014 deadline to submit its report on the CNMI’s minimum wage hike impact.
Jon Fremont, senior analyst at GAO’s International Affairs and Trade, reached out to the Saipan Chamber of Commerce last week about the new round of survey.
Key CNMI employers, including large tourism-related businesses, should expect survey forms from GAO in the coming weeks.
Alex Sablan, president of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber will cooperate and extend assistance to GAO with their report to Congress as required under U.S. Public Law 110-28 on minimum wage.
“We were disappointed that GAO was not afforded funding to prepare this report in 2013; nonetheless we will prepare to address their economic survey work for future consideration by Congress on the impact of future increases in minimum wage in the CNMI,” Sablan said.
He said the Chamber firmly believes all increases in minimum wage, as it affects the cost of doing business in the CNMI, “should come as a result of solid empirical data as the GAO has been directed under the law to gather, not simply by the fact that P.L. 110-28 schedules a scale based upon a political decision.”
“As Guam Chamber [chair] Gerry Perez diplomatically stated at [Wednesday’s] general membership meeting, there are unintended consequences we obviously endure, and that should be the reason the GAO now asks our assistance in gathering that empirical data,” Sablan added.
The last time GAO came up with a report regarding the minimum wage increases in the CNMI was in 2011.
The new GAO survey will provide updates on the effects the minimum wage increases have had on workers and employers in the CNMI.
A 2007 federal law mandates an annual 50-cent increase in CNMI minimum wage until it reaches the federal wage floor of $7.25 an hour.
Since 2007, the annual 50-cent hike was delayed once, in 2011.
Another delay is requested for this year but the U.S. Senate bill that would make that happen is still with the U.S. House, which is scheduled to debate a proposed military strike against Syria this week.
Congress also has to work on national budget issues, including a continuing resolution to keep the U.S. government open on Oct. 1 and beyond.
With only nine available legislative days before the end of fiscal year 2013, the minimum wage hike delay bill faces tough competition from major issues needing congressional actions.
If the U.S. House is unable to pass S. 256 in those nine legislative days, the CNMI’s minimum wage will automatically increase from the current $5.55 an hour to $6.05 an hour on Sept. 30.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) told Saipan Tribune that despite this, all is not lost because they will keep on working to pass S. 256.
Just the same, the Saipan Chamber of Commerce has already called on employers to prepare for another 50-cent increase in minimum wage as the possibility of having S. 256 passed becomes smaller.