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Legislature's retroactive pay questioned

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - Thousands of Government of Guam workers have been told that the financial condition won't support the implementation of the Hay Study. Hiring in all agencies - critical ones being the exception - has been frozen, and public sector staffers are left to do more with less. And even in these austere times, the members of the Guam Legislature were given increases in their pay.

But apparently, that's not all they got.

Members of the 30th Legislature were the first to see an increase in their pay after a legal opinion pointed out a public law that would have given them pay adjustments dating back to 2003. So in the 31st, those raises went to effect along with retroactive paychecks that were issued.

It was during discussions about the government wide compensation study late last year that members of the 30th Guam Legislature learned they were entitled to more than their $55,000 a year salary. Lawmakers and legislative staff were never included in the hay study review. Legislative Executive Director Vince Arriola said, "After the governor submitted that bill on the Hay Study, that triggered myself and our staff here to review the salaries here within the Legislature, for the senators and, of course, all employees."

And it was a legal opinion authored by legislative legal counsel Therese Terlaje on November 24 of last year that revealed that based on the law, senators were actually making less than what was provided for in statute. "In reviewing the salaries here we discovered there's a public law that details the salaries of senators; basically that their salaries follow the judges in the Superior Court of Guam," said Arriola.

Public Law 27-05 based senators' salaries on those of judges, specifically providing for 50 percent of the annual salary of a Superior Court judge, with the speaker to receive 50 percent of the presiding judge's salary. The Legislature never implemented the law after the 27th Guam Legislature reduced the salary for all members for Fiscal Year 2003.

But the legal opinion states that the pay adjustment should have begun the following year. Arriola noted, "My job as the executive director and the administration of the Guam Legislature is to make sure that payroll is correct, individuals are paid what's provided for, especially senators, because it's the public law that provides for their salary."

"I'm only in this term and the 30th Guam Legislature, so I did what I had to do during my term," he explained.

Lawmakers each received retroactive checks in early January.  Senator Adolpho Palacios has said the check was between $5,000 and $6,000. Despite the adjustment not being included in the Legislature's budget, Palacios said lapsed funds were used for the retro checks, telling KUAM News, "We clearly recognize the financial condition of the Government of Guam, including the Legislature. We have our own issues here with cash management and cash flow and allotments from the General Fund, so mind you we are not in any position to go out and spend freely. We've been doing our own cost-cutting measures - not filling positions, cutting energy consumption, recycling. We're doing everything we can to save here at the Legislature."

As we reported in the last few years, island lawmakers say they have been able to realize more than $700,000 in savings that have lapsed into the current year budget.  The increases means senators now make close to $60,000 a year with the speaker receiving $67,000 a year.

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