Rep. Joseph “Lee Pan” Guerrero (R-Saipan) believes that cutting work hours as part of the austerity regime should be done from the top and that low-wage employees should be spared.
In an interview last week, Guerrero said the first thing that the Torres administration needs to ascertain is the employees’ salary and he feels that those making $18,000 to $20,000 per annum need to be spared from the cuts.
“It’s not right if we cut them as well and they can’t be able to meet their financial obligations,” Guerrero said.
The administration earlier said that the decision to implement the 64-hour work schedule is based on an estimated revenue loss of $48.3 million, blamed on the coronavirus outbreak.
Guerrero said Gov. Ralph DLG Torres should look at his Cabinet in implementing austerity measures. “In fairness, you start from the top, not from the bottom. If a cut has to be done, it has to be done from the top. How can you cut somebody in the bottom when they’re suffering [already]? …It’s not fair,” he said.
Guerrero said they have implemented cost-cutting measures at the Legislature as well.
He said both Senate and the House of Representatives must continue with their sessions, regardless of funding issues, because it is vitally important that they introduce and pass legislations that would improve the coffers of the CNMI.
“That’s very important right now. We need to be mindful of what we can do,” he said.
Guerrero said one thing that they have placed on the table for discussions is the sin tax for cigarette, beer, and liquor. He pointed out that, even with the sin tax and the increased prices, people would still buy these items. He cited the case of cigarettes, in which a pack is almost $10 apiece, yet people continue buying it.
“The same thing with liquor. These are something that we’re exploring to see and come up with new revenue,” Guerrero said.
The lawmaker said if they don’t come up with new revenue generating legislation, the CNMI’s economy would continue to go down because of the coronavirus outbreak.
With respect to the House members’ closed door meeting last Monday with Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig, Guerrero said it was done to clarify the definite percentage of the cuts at the Legislature.
He said that, according to Atalig, it’s 28.3%, but what they are seeing from the Office of Management and Budget is totally different.
“OMB is showing us 56[%). It’s [higher]. I don’t know how they quantify their numbers. But when you have two conflicting figures from Finance and OMB…which one do we follow?” Guerrero said.
He said that, according to Atalig, his 28.3% is justified but not the 56%.
Guerrero said they asked Atalig whether he is aware of the submission from OMB regarding the budget reduction that was submitted to the Legislature and a copy was provided to Atalig’s office, the governor, and the lieutenant governor.
“That was what the meeting was all about—clarification on what is the proportionate cuts for the Legislature,” he said.
Guerrero said they need to know because they have to adjust their office’s operation. “Do we need to reduce the employees’ salaries? Or do we need to let go of some employees? Because absent adequate funding, the operations of our office cannot continue,” he said.
Guerrero said the Legislative Bureau is now looking into their budget numbers to make sure that the bureau is not hampered in terms of operation.