The Senate passed House Bill 20-194 or the bill that would establish a new salary level for members of the Legislature during a session yesterday on Capital Hill. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres for further action.
Rep. Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) introduced H.B. 20-194 as the current Legislature needs to act on the measure or the incoming members of the 21st would be receiving $8,000 as annual salary based on the Supreme Court ruling last September.
H.B. 20-194 would keep the annual salaries of the lawmakers at $39,300 or the same amount before the controversial Public Law 19-83 that could have increased it to $70,000. The Supreme Court ruled P.L. 19-83, including PLs 4-32 and 7-31, as unconstitutional.
The $39,300 compensation was based on the recommendation made by the Advisory Commission on the Compensation of Commonwealth Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Officers. Members of the 20th Legislature are receiving the same amount.
The $8,000 was the salary received by the inaugural Legislature before it increased to $30,000 in 1985 and $39,300 in 1991. P.L. 19-83 could have increased it to $70,000 but the CNMI Supreme Court, in Manibusan v. Larson, ruled the salary hike was unconstitutional including in the previous P.L.s 4-32 and 7-31.
The commission was formed based on Section 3 of Public Law 20-71 and is in accordance with Article II Section X of the CNMI Constitution. They are tasked to review the salary increases for the three branches of the government if it was calculated based from a specific accepted composite price index.
Senate President Arnold I. Paalcios (R-Saipan), Senate vice president Steve K. Mesngon (R-Rota), floor leader Francisco M. Borja (R-Tinian), and Sens. Francisco Q. Cruz (R-Tinian), Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian), and Sixto K. Igisomar (R-Saipan) voted yes. Sens. Teresita A. Santos (R-Rota) and Paul A. Manglona (Ind-Rota) were excused.
Sen. Justo S. Quitugua (Ind-Saipan) voted no saying that he could have supported H.B. 20-194 if the commission based their recommendation on the U.S. consumer price index. “The commission did not follow the U.S. CPI, instead they looked at the hourly weighted salary and cost of living allowance and came out with their own CPI.”
“They decided to keep the salaries at the current. The new formula they established indicated that the adjusted salary ceiling is $47,000. However, to be on the safe side, they recommended the salary at status quo.”
Quitugua said the commission’s report was based on the U.S. CPI where members of the Legislature should receive an annual salary of $32,312.19 and their own computation that’s based on the hourly rate and the inflationary adjustment to came out with $47,555.47.
“However, the commission recommended that salary will remain at $39,300. If. I’m going to support the new salary, I will support it based on U.S. CPI which is $32,000. That’s why I voted no,” added Quitugua, who does not receive a salary since being a retiree.
“I actually will not be part of the new salary. Also, there’s five of us in the Senate that perhaps will not be receiving salary next year, and so that’s where I stand in voting no. Returning members of the Legislature are allowed by the CNMI Constitution because it is saying if they pass this in 21st Legislature that cannot receive the salary. There’s no conflict of interest.”