The following is a news release from the Office of Sen. Celina Roberto Babauta:
Senator Celina Babauta, intent on cutting wasteful spending before merit-based employees suffer financial hardship, has introduced S.B. 23-26 to do what should have been done long ago: pare down the exorbitant benefits Commonwealth Casino Commissioners receive. She introduced an identical bill during her term as a member of the House of Representatives in the 22nd Legislature which sat unattended in the 22nd Senate.
Among the changes she seeks is to do away with double-dipping among commissioners, who receive annual salaries that are higher than more than 99 percent of Commonwealth employees.
All current appointees to the CCC are CNMI government retirees and have been double-dipping since their term began. The appointees to the CCC are Edward C. Deleon Guerrero, Raphael S. Demapan and Mariano Taitano from Saipan, Ramon S. Dela Cruz from Tinian and Martin Mendiola from Rota.
“Before any cuts in personnel salaries or a reduction in force occurs, we must make every attempt at reducing unnecessary overhead costs. I will do whatever I can to rein in excessive spending in our government,” she said. “This bill, if enacted, will revert nearly half a million dollars back into the CNMI Treasury. This is a solution to the unchecked and reckless spending patterns our government has been accustomed to.“
This bill addresses several critical issues. The legislation will:
- Stop the double dipping of the Casino Commissioners;
- Make 1 CMC § 8441 and 1 CMC § 8442 applicable to the Commissioners;
- Make the salary cap provision applicable to the Commissioners; and
- Remove their status as essential employees in the event of disasters.
The senator also is concerned the previous administration allowed the commissioners to double dip, without having any authority under law to do so.
“There is no explicit exemption in the Casino Commission enabling statute, or the double dipping exemptions law that has allowed for this,” Sen. Babauta said. “And with the trouble that befell the Retirement Fund, there should be concern as to how these double dippers affect the solvency of the Fund.”
Even the late Gov. Eloy Inos expressed these concerns when he cautiously signed the CCC bill into law in 2014.
“It was Gov. Inos’s understanding that the Commissioners could only double dip for 60 days, just like any other government employee but for some reason it was never honored,” Sen. Babauta said.
In his transmittal letter of March 21, 2014, signing the CCC bill into law, Gov. Inos expressly stated that he had reservations signing the bill into law and intended for the salaries of Commissioners to be reduced to $20 per hour. This agreement between the Executive and the Legislative Branch has never been fulfilled. As it stands today, the commissioners are earning over $31.00 per hour or $65,000 per annum, on top of their 100% retiree pensions.
“In my many years of experience in the government, no other commission or board is exempted from the double-dipping statute, the re-employment restriction or exemption of the salary cap restriction and deemed to be essential during calamities, only the CCC,” recalls Babauta.