12 Feb 2018
- By Bryan Manabat – [email protected] – Variety News Staff
THE local Supreme Court on Friday heard the arguments on the constitutionality of the pay-hike law for government officials and put the matter under advisement.
Attorney General Edward Manibusan and Secretary of Finance Larrisa Larson earlier submitted a joint petition for a certified question regarding the issue.
Those who heard the arguments on Friday were Chief Justice Alexandro Castro, Justice John Manglona, and Justice Pro Tem Robert Torres of Guam.
Assistant Attorney General Christopher M. Timmons, chief of the civil division, argued for Manibusan while attorney Matthew Gregory represented Larson.
Timmons told the high court that the presence of four sitting members of the Legislature on the advisory commission leading to the enactment of the pay-hike law, or P.L. 19-83, violated Article 2, Section 11 of the CNMI Constitution, rendering unconstitutional the salary increases for the governor, the lt. governor, and the Legislature.
He said that there is no historical precedent for inclusion of the Legislature in the advisory commission’s composition.
“Each time the Legislature has seen fit to give itself a raise, it has ignored and violated those controls placed in our Constitution that not only protect our people, but also protect the reputation and integrity of the legislative branch as a whole,” said Timmons.
The salary-adjustment laws, he added, violate the checks and balances imposed by the CNMI Constitution including the prohibition against legislators sitting on independent boards or commissions; the prohibition against adjustment of salaries not based upon the recommendation of an advisory commission; the restriction on increases in salary greater than the change in an accepted price index since the last change.
In response, attorney Matthew T. Gregory said the CNMI Constitution does not prevent the appointment of legislators to independent commissions such as the advisory commission and only requires that the pay hike falls within an accepted CPI and does not exceed the recommendation of the advisory commission.
“Just because a decision and an action by Legislature is unpopular, it does not make it illegal or unconstitutional,” he added.
The proper check and balance is to vote the officials out of office, he said.
Timmons said to accept the finance department’s interpretation would yield the current restriction meaningless — the advisory commission could be comprised solely of members of the Legislature, he added.
Timmons said this argument would offend both the textual restrictions found in the Constitution as well as the intent of the framers that the Legislature be insulated from this process.
The AG brought the lawsuit against the pay hike in his official capacity in Feb. 2017 and named Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson in her official capacity as defendant as she has the responsibility of disbursing funds in accordance with the law.
The lawsuit states that P.L. 19-83 is unconstitutional.
On Aug. 7, 2017 Manibusan and Larson submitted a joint petition for a certified question with two proposed questions:
1) Did the presence of four sitting members of the Legislature on the advisory commission leading to the enactment of Public Law 19-83 violate Article II, Section 11 of the CNMI Constitution? If so, did the illegal presence of the legislators on the advisory commission render the salaries for the governor, the lt. governor, and the Legislature in Public Law 19-83 unconstitutional?
2) Were the three salary increases (or any of them) for members of the Legislature unconstitutional because they exceeded the change in an accepted price index for the period since the last change, (or in the case of P.L. 4-32, was not based upon a price index at all); or alternatively, were the three salary increases (or any of them) unconstitutional because they exceeded the respective advisory commission’s salary recommendation?
Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/102181-high-court-hears-arguments-on-gov-t-pay-hike-law