Salary Cap Issue House taps Babauta on wrist

Posted on Apr 18 2002

Due to defects in the certifications submitted by Gov. Juan N. Babauta to the Legislature for the lifting of the salary cap on seven gubernatorial appointees, the House of Representatives said it would not sanction the excess salaries “at this time.”

In response, Babauta said he would act on the matter accordingly. “I will make the necessary adjustments to ensure compliance with the requirements of the law,” he said.

Babauta did not specify a timeframe nor the particular actions he would take, saying he had just received the letter from the House informing him of the lower chamber’s findings and would still have to study it.

In his letter to the Governor dated yesterday, House Speaker Heinz S. Hofschneider said the chamber has reviewed the report submitted by House Committee on Ways and Means Chair Stanley T. Torres about the salary certifications and the House agrees with the findings in the report.

The certifications cited Commonwealth laws governing exemptions to the wage ceiling to justify the lifting of the salary cap for Francisco I. Taitano, Celina R. Babauta, Robert J. Schwalbach, Santiago F. Tudela, Franklin R. Babauta, Edward C. Camacho and Juan I. Castro.

In the case of Taitano, Celina R. Babauta, and Schwalbach, Hofschneider said the letters from the Office of the Governor purporting to make the certifications required by Title 1 CMC section 8250 (c) did not address the key elements of that provision in lifting the cap for the three.

The House also found the certifications for Tudela, Franklin R. Babauta and Camacho defective. “The letter purporting to make the certification required by 1 CMC section 8248 (b), as amended, also fails to specify that Juan I. Castro meets the statutory requirements of that section,” he added.

Aside from the defective certifications, Hofschneider said the Office of the Governor has not secured legislative sanction as required by section 526 of Public law 11-41 in approving these salaries.

At the moment, because of these defects, the Speaker said the lower chamber would not sanction the excess salaries.

Hofschneider also informed the Governor that, from now on, the House would closely review all certifications of salaries in excess of the limits set by law.

At the same time, he said the chamber would consider whether sanction is warranted on a case-by-case basis, citing Section 504 of Public Law 11-41, which sets out the penalty provisions for violation of the employment ceilings.

Under that provision, any person who hires or approves the hiring of any person in violation of the provisions of Public Law 11-41 shall, among other penalties, be personally liable for the costs of employment of the person hired illegally, together with the costs and lawyer’s fees in any action brought by a taxpayer to recover the money spent improperly due to the illegal hiring.

In considering future certifications, the Speaker said the House would bear in mind the decrease in revenues that has led to drastic budget cuts across all departments and agencies; the overdue salary adjustments, including those authorized by Public Law 7-31; the estimated $60 million owed to the Retirement Fund in government contributions; the need for an equitable and cogent policy governing fiscal matters during this time of austerity; and the need to rebuild the trust of the private sector and prevent the continued loss of morale among government employees.

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