Members of the House of Representatives gave themselves a salary raise yesterday.
Voting 15-5, the House passed House Bill 19-3 HS1 to increase the salaries of all elected Commonwealth officials—the governor, lieutenant governor, mayors, and members of the Legislature. HB 19-3 now goes to the Senate for deliberation.
House Speaker Rafael S. Demapan (R-Saipan) authored HB 19-3 and also introduced floor amendments in yesterday’s session on Capital Hill.
HB 19-3 was originally intended to set a new base salary for civil service government employees pursuant to 1 CMC Sections 8124 (g) and 8133, and to increase the ceiling for government employees.
After some floor amendments, HB 19-03 HS1 became an act “to enact a new base salary schedule for classified civil service government employees pursuant to 1CMC Sections 8124 (g) and 8133, and to increase the salary ceiling for classified civil service government employees and to amend 1 CMC 8244 and 1 CMC 1271 to increase the compensation” of all elected officials.
Public Law 19-51 created the Advisory Commission on Elected Official Compensation with Sens. Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian), Sixto K. Igisomar (R-Saipan), Reps. Joseph Leepan Guerrero (R-Saipan) and Antonio P. Sablan (Ind-Saipan), former Senate president Pete P. Reyes, Office of the Governor’s special assistant for management and budget Virginia C. Villagomez, and Saipan Chamber of Commerce secretary Alex A. Sablan as members.
The commission reviewed the compensation of the governor, lieutenant governor, the mayors, legislators, justices, judges, and other appointed government officials. The commission completed and transmitted their report early this month where they recommended increasing the salaries of the governor, lieutenant governor, mayors, and legislators.
The CNMI Constitution set the governor’s compensation at $20,000 per annum, $18,000 for the lieutenant governor and legislators at $8,000 when it was ratified in 1977. The compensation could be changed only once every four years, as recommended by a law-established Advisory Commission.
The First Commonwealth Legislature established the annual salaries of mayors at $12,000, chief judge at $44,000, and associate judge at $38,000. Their salaries increased for the first time in 1985 when PL 4-32 was enacted.
The salaries under PL 4-32 that was signed into law by then-governor Pedro Tenorio on April 1, 1985, set the salaries of governor ($50,000), lieutenant governor ($40,000), legislators ($30,000), mayors ($21,000), chief judge ($50,000), and associate judges ($44,000).
It was on June 19, 1991, through PL 7-31, where it increased for the last time for elected officials. The governor’s salary increased to $70,000, lieutenant governor to $60,000, legislators to $39,300, mayors to $43,200, chief justice to $82,200, associate justices at $79,000, presiding judge at $76,600, and associate judges at $72,400 per annum.
PL 8-15 raised the salaries of the Judiciary: $130,000 for chief justice, $126,000 for associate justices, $123,000 for the presiding judge, and $120,000 for associate judges.
HB 19-3, as recommended by the Advisory Commission, would raise the governor’s annual salary to $120,000 while the lieutenant governor will get $100,000 and mayors at $75,000. Legislators would get an annual compensation of $70,000.
Voting in the negative
Five members of the minority bloc voted against the passing of HB 19-3. Rep. B.J. Attao (Ind-Saipan), Edwin K. Propst (Ind-Saipan), Vinnie F. Sablan (Ind-Saipan), Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan), and Ralph N. Yumul (Ind-Saipan) voted in the negative, saying the government should first settle its other obligations instead of increasing the salaries of all elected officials.
They questioned the constitutionality of the bill where the title should only have one subject. Article II Section 5-B of the CNMI Constitution states that “a bill shall be confined to one subject except for bills for appropriations or bills for the codification, revision or rearrangement of existing laws.
Attao said HB 19-3 is not a non-funded liability. “On top of that, the legal counsel was asked a question whether it is constitutional or not with the two language and two for the purpose of one legislation and he admitted that it was two subjects. We rely on the counsel’s opinion in a lot of issues but salary is not one of them obviously.”
Propst added that it should be 5 percent across the board, which is the same increase civil servants would be getting once HB 19-209 is enacted into law. The House also passed HB 19-209 during the session.
“I felt that we should not have this as a rider or an amendment. In my personal opinion, it should have been separate [bill]. I was concerned about the amount of the increase, because while we gave civil servants a 5-percent increase, we’re giving ourselves an 80-percent increase. That doesn’t seem very fair.”
He said the government still has a lot of debts and obligations that needs to be settled, like the families that are medical malpractice victims and those owed land compensation. “We still have so many agencies that are under unded and have been asking for more money.”
“I understand that we have not gotten an increase since 1991, but what do we say to the police officers, for example, that are only making $8 an hour and not receiving night differential or hazard pay? How do we as public officials go to them and say ‘we’re sorry we can’t give you an increase but we’re going to give ourselves an 80-percent increase,’” Propst said.
Sablan supported Propst’s statement, adding that the timing of the proposed increase is inappropriate. “Of course, everyone could justify the need for an increase but the timing of the increase is bad. There’s the Public School System and other obligations. Maybe it would be more justifiable if everyone will be receiving the adjustments.”
“Right now, I could not decide to give myself an increase while seeing that the others are still waiting for theirs. For example, I’ve been asking [law] enforcement officers if they received anything and they said they still have not. We have to take care of everybody else, from the bottom up. When that’s done, let’s make ourselves happy.”
Villagomez said the increase could have been gradual. “Maybe a little more gradual is acceptable to vote, compared to a big jump like this. We have other obligations in the government that we should take care of first.”
“Settling debts, salary increases for those who are not making the kind of salary that we’re getting. Or even like what managers or supervisors are getting. To be fair, it should be across the board,” added Villagomez.