The House of Representatives passed a bill yesterday to set up an advisory commission that would review the salary of local officials and recommend, if any, an increase.
All 19 members present in yesterday’s session voted to pass Senate Bill 20-111—introduced by Sen. Sixto K. Igisomar (R-Saipan)—or an act that would establish the commission on the compensation of CNMI executive, legislative, and judicial officers. Rep. Joseph I. Itibus (R-Saipan) was excused.
House Speaker Rafael S. Demapan (R-Saipan) said the bill now heads to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres for possible signing. “When the governor signs this [S.B. 20-11] I will immediately appoint two members from the House to the advisory commission.”
The same process was followed in the controversial Public Law 19-83, where an advisory commission was created through Public Law 19-51. That commission had Sens. Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) and Igisomar, 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 advisory commission is in accordance with Article II Section X of the CNMI Constitution where it states the salary of members of the Legislature “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 advisory commission needs to review the compensation of the members of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government with the salary agreed on based on an existing consumer price index.
Public Law 19-83 could have increased the members of the Legislature’s salaries from $39,300 to $70,000 while the governor and lieutenant governor will be receiving $120,000 and $100,000 each with municipal mayors—Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and the Northern Islands—pegged at $75,000.
The Supreme Court, however, ruled that the salary increases—especially for the legislators—are unconstitutional, including the two previous wage hikes enacted under P.L. 4-32 and P.L. 7-31.
The previous salary advisory commission, through P.L. 19-51, compared the CNMI salary to the national and regional data they collected from all elected officials in other U.S. jurisdictions. The governor’s salary in the territories and commonwealths range from a low of $70,000 (CNMI) to a high of $150,000 (U.S. Virgin Islands).
The commission also used smaller surveys that showed $62,000 is the average salary of a mayor and used that figure as a reference for the proposed $75,000 increase from $43,200. CNMI legislators also have the lowest salary at $39,300 compared to Guam at $85,000. The national average salary of lawmakers in the U.S. is $69,448.
However, Guam senators—after passing a bill that increased their salaries to $85,000 from $55,000 in 2014—voted 13-2 to roll back their pay raise to the original amount.
The advisory commission must first be established and they need to agree on a salary that’s based on an existing consumer price index or else the salaries of the incoming members of the 21st Legislature would go back to $8,000 annually.