House passes pay hike for officials, special annuity for governor, lt. governor

THE House of Representatives on Tuesday passed measures that will increase the salaries of executive branch officials and re-establish a special annuity for the governor and lt. governor. The two bills now go to the Senate.

House Bill 20-35, the pay hike measure, was passed by a vote of 15 to 3. Those who voted against it were House Minority Leader Edmund Villagomez, Reps. Vinnie Sablan and Edwin Propst.

The bill was introduced by Rep. John Paul Sablan who also sponsored House Bill 20-36 which will reestablish the special annuity for the governor and lt. governor.

The bill was passed by a 13 to 5 vote. Those against were Reps. Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero, Angel Demapan, Villagomez, Propst and Vinnie Sablan.

Deleon Guerrero said he voted no because he wanted to be consistent. He said he was a member of the 15th Legislature which repealed the law creating a special annuity for the governor and lt. governor.

Rep. Angel Demapan said he voted no because “H.B. 20-36 seeks to undo a provision of Public Law 15-70. The framers of that law intended to address what was then the mounting unfunded liabilities in the government. Today, although financial solvency has improved, H.B. 20-36 does not point to a specific funding source to ensure that this does not end up becoming an unfunded liability again. Anytime there’s an unfunded liability, we run the risk of public indebtedness for future bond ratings.”

Rep. Vinnie Sablan said he voted no to the pay hike measure because “the total additional funds needed for the adjustment is $747,385 per year.”

He added, “Assuming all the officials will receive the maximum cap, we are looking at an approximately $10,000 average raise to an already significant pay level per annum per official. These funds could go to pay adjustments of entry-level or mid-level employees who have been waiting years for pay adjustments. These are also funds that could be used to pay down other government obligations. At the end of the day it’s a question of where our priorities should be as a government.”

In an interview, Rep. John Paul Sablan said he introduced the pay hike measure in the spirit of consistency.

He said “everybody’s salary has been raised, including civil service employees, law enforcement officers and teachers, and the only government employees whose salaries have not been raised are the appointed officials.”

A pay hike measure for elected officials has also been enacted into law, but the CNMI Supreme Court is now considering its legality.

“I just felt that our appointed officials deserve some increase too especially those who have been the head of their departments for so long now and are handling more than one division…. It’s not a drastic increase,” Sablan said.

As for H.B. 20, he said: “If it becomes law the past and present governors and lt. governors will get an annual annuity even if they are not yet retired.”

Sablan said the government must allot $185,000 every fiscal year for the special annuity.

Source: Marianas Variety :

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