The Advisory Commission that would study and make the recommendation on salary increases for elected officials will have at least three months to study and present a recommendation as stated on Public Law 20-71, which was signed into law by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres last week.
Article II Section X of the CNMI Constitution states that compensation for elected officials “may be changed no more than once every four years and upon the recommendation of an advisory commission established by law to make recommendations concerning the compensation of Commonwealth executive, legislative, and judicial officers.”
The commission will have seven members with three to be appointed by Torres while Senate President Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan) and House Speaker Rafael S. Demapan (R-Saipan) will have two appointees each. The commission needs to be formed on or before Oct. 20, within 15 days after the day the bill was signed into law, Oct. 5.
The commission was formed to once and for all settle the issue on the salaries of CNMI’s elected officials after the Supreme Court ruled the salary increases enacted under Public Laws 19-83, 7-31, and 4-32 are all unconstitutional. The commission needs to submit a salary they agreed on based on an existing consumer price index.
The Supreme Court, however, ruled that the salary increases—especially for the legislators—are unconstitutional, including the two previous wage hikes enacted under PLs 4-32 and 7-31.
The Superior Court then decided that the Supreme Court’s decision won’t be retroactive and that sitting legislators in the 20th Legislature will continue to receive their regular salaries of $39,300 until their term ends when the House and Senate adjourns. That’s when lawmakers’ salaries would go back to $8,000 per annum, unless lawmakers act on this issue before the start of the 21st Legislature.
Demapan has appointed Rep. Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) and Legislative Bureau fiscal analyst David Demapan as the representatives of the House. Torres and Senate President Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan) have yet to name their appointees to the commission as of press time.
Demapan said the commission, once all the members are named, will meet and choose among themselves the chairman before proceeding with the process of studying and making the recommendation based on an existing CPI.
They need to come up with a figure that would be appropriate to all, especially for legislators, or the annual salary of incoming members of the 21st Legislature will go back to $8,000.
“Time is very critical because, as we all know some time after the election, we always have what you call a lame duck Legislature. Sometimes, getting things done is not as smooth or easy as in regular sessions,” Demapan told Saipan Tribune.
“There is shorter number of days. Some would just require a simple majority in order for legislation, especially appropriation bills, to go through both the House and Senate,” he added.
He said that the Supreme Court’s decision just shows the effective checks and balances in the three branches of government. “Our job [in the Legislature] is to introduce legislation. The Executive implements it and the Judiciary interpret it to make sure it is within the Constitution.”
“There’s no such thing as a perfect legislation but we have to respect the process and the court’s decision on that.”
Demapan added that is where the Judiciary comes in, clarifying the laws that they created and implemented by the Executive Branch. “We need the courts to do that. Only the court can do that.”
He said that the high court gave guidelines that the commission would follow before making a decision on their recommendation.