In a move intended for the CNMI government to save some cash, a bill that would cut the salaries of elected and appointed officials to where they were 29 years ago will be introduced in the House of Representatives session today on Capital Hill.
House Bill 21-109, HD1, authored by House Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao (R-Saipan), would amend Public Law 21-8, and push for the salary adjustments of those with higher salaries to revert back to the compensation schedule in Public Law 7-31.
Essentially, the bill takes all these elected and appointed officials’ current salaries and drop it to the salaries set when P.L. 7-31 was enacted, which was in 1991.
“The amendment to the current budget will cut salaries for certain elected and appointed position— those that are making substantially more than the rest. We expressly exempted everyone making minimum wage,” Attao said.
While lawmakers cannot stop the administration from cutting work hours of government workers, they can, instead, propose to reverse their salary increases, 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,” Attao said.
“You can’t save money by raising salaries substantially and reducing hours minimally,” he added.
The salary adjustment will be in addition to the cost-cutting measures that the Commonwealth is undertaking, particularly the austerity that will take effect beginning March 15.
While the CNMI economy has been impacted by extreme weather conditions in the past, it is seeing its worst at present. The fall in tourism due to the global novel coronavirus scare is severely damaging the global economy, but most especially the local economy.
“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,” Rep Marco Peter (R-Saipan) separately said.
The bill exempts the above, as well as all employees currently making minimum wage salaries.
It also suspends the Public School System employee compensation set in Article 7 § 1182 of Public Law 20-48 for the remainder of fiscal year 2020, provided that the PSS employees, except for those mentioned by Peter, revert to salaries they were receiving prior to the adjustments authorized under P.L. 20-48.
Rep. Ivan Blanco (R-Saipan) said that cutting 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.
“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 general revenues available to PSS,” vice speaker Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) added.
Aside from the salary cuts for elected and appointed officials, the bill also proposes that federally funded positions will not be reduced in fiscal year 2020; that federally funded travels are allowed; and that all travels outside of the CNMI, except for medical referrals and those that will directly benefit the Commonwealth, are to be suspended.
All purchases, including capital items using revenues from the general fund, are also to be suspended.
The bill also states that no new hires will be allowed, and that no salary increases are to be entertained for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Rep. Joseph Lee Pan Guerrero (R-Saipan) said that 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 to avoid it.
“We took this approach, as opposed to revising the CNMI budget because this process would have a more immediate effect,” Rep. Ralph Yumul (R-Saipan) said. “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 2021 budget.”