SAIPAN – There are flaws in a bill that would expand the salary ceiling exemption for certain professionals hired by the government, Saipan Mayor David Apatang said in his written comment regarding House Bill 21-21.

“The requirement for a certification to authorize exceeding the salary cap, as set forth in the proposed amendment to 1 CMC §8248(b), as it applies to the governor, might be inconsistent with 1CMC §8131, which lists positions and employees that are exempted from the civil service system,” the mayor said in his letter to Senate Standing Committee on Fiscal Affairs Chairman Sen. Jude U. Hofschneider. 

The bill has been passed by the House of Representatives and is pending in the Senate.

Apatang said 1 CMC §8131 (a) (9) exempts employees of mayor’s offices from the civil service system.

“It would be extremely difficult to reconcile 1 CMC §8131 (a) (9) with the proposed amendment to 1 CMC §8248(b), where the governor would have to certify a position in any of the various mayors’ offices to exceed the salary ceiling to the Legislature and the Civil Service Commission,” Apatang said.

One of the bill’s flaws, he added, is that “in any general fund appropriation act that provides for the personnel of the respective mayors’ offices, the mayor has consistently been designated the expenditure authority of the appropriation.”

Apatang said the proposed requirement for the governor to certify to the Legislature and the Civil Service Commission that a salary will exceed the salary cap, based on 1 CMC §8248(b), would mean that “the expenditure authority has no say in how to appoint and hire employees to support the office he was elected to administer, which must include setting salary caps for his employees.”

Moreover, Apatang said it would mean that another person not designated by law to expend the appropriation of a mayor’s office is and will be in charge of the appropriation when the decision deals with employees.

“Such requirement to certify to the Legislature and the Civil Service Commission is an attempt to lessen the power and authority of the mayors to carry out their statutory power to be in control of expending appropriation of their office,” Apatang said.

He also believes that the government salary cap “should be higher (than what is proposed by the bill) to attract serious and committed college graduates to return to our islands, where they can start fresh in their lives after college, build homes, raise a family, cope with the high cost of living in an island, and stay current on student loans.”

Introduced by Speaker BJ Attao, the bill states that professional government positions within the executive branch of the CNMI government have proven difficult to fill and/or retain due to the government salary restriction.

“It is imperative to enhance our recruiting capabilities and competitiveness by providing proper incentives to allow for the CNMI government to attract capable and knowledgeable individuals to fill such positions and allow for our great Commonwealth to operate more efficiently and effectively,” the bill added.

It aims to allow the CNMI to “recruit, retain and maintain the progress that we have long strived for since the very beginning.”

The bill, as originally drafted, would raise the government salary cap to $75,000 from $50,000.

In addition, the bill states that licensed medical professionals, attorneys, certified public accountants, engineers, architects, biologists, chief geographic information system officers, biometricians “or any other professional positions…required to meet federally funded grant objectives” can receive an annual salary in excess of $75,000.