“To the victor belong the spoils,” Andrew Jackson famously said after winning the hard-fought 1824 presidential election against incumbent John Quincy Adams. Nearly 200 years later, an American governor seated 7,785 miles away from Washington, D.C. takes the American system of cronyism to a whole new level.
CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres has struck again; this time, handing over a yet-to-be-disclosed sum of the Commonwealth taxpayers’s money to his friend, former Guam Sen. Wil Castro as his annual salary to be his chief of staff. Yet, according to the governor’s fiscal year 2022 budget, which went into effect over the weekend, there is no budgeted amount for the position.
The largesse upon Castro simply is the latest from the imperial governor’s court. From illegal overtime payments to five-digit raises for members of his cabinet and staff, Mr. Torres has a habit of giving away other people’s money in exchange for pledges of fealty.
The Commonwealth’s laws are clear about the amount of base annual salary each cabinet member and most staffers of the governor’s office can make, at maximum. For instance, according to §8245 of Division 8, Title 1 of the Commonwealth Code, or the Compensation of Certain Appointed Officials statute, the Commissioner of Public Safety’s annual salary is not to exceed $54,000. Robert Guerrero, the incumbent, has a base annual salary of $74,983, or nearly $21,000 over the statutory cap.
Secretary of Finance David Atalig, Jr. only is allowed to make $56,000, according to the §8245 statute. This fiscal year, he’s making $100,000. If you include his benefits and pay classified as a budgetary modifier, you, the taxpayer, are forking out $108,910 for his services in FY 2022.
According to the law the governor’s public information officer, Kevin Bautista, is capped at a base salary of $43,200. Instead, Mr. Torres pays her $54,000.
Here are the other positions, with their corresponding salary cap versus what they are paid in FY 2022:
- Secretary, Community and Cultural Affairs (Joseph Deleon Guerrero): Capped: $54,000; PAID: $65,174
- Secretary of Commerce (Edward Deleon Guerrero): Capped: $54,000; PAID: $51,973
- Secretary of Public Works (James Ada): Capped: $54,000; PAID: $65,174
- Special Assistant for Management and Budget (Virginia Villagomez): Capped: $54,000; PAID: $70,000
- Governor’s Legal Council (Gil Birnbirch): Capped: $60,000; PAID: $90,000
- Special Assistant for Programs and Legislative Review (Amelia Shai): Capped: $45,000; PAID: $60,000
- Special Assistant for Administration (Mathilda Rosario): Capped: $54,000; PAID: $65,174
You may read the full list of governor’s office staffers and cabinet members’s full base pay below. Among them, and for which there are no statutory caps, are his special assistant for substance abuse, Yvette Sablan, who now is paid $60,000 in base salary.