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Former senator questions legality of raises

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - Back in February, KUAM News was the first to break the story that island lawmakers had given themselves a pay raise and retroactive pay after learning of a law that set their compensation at half the rate of the annual salaries of Superior Court judges or sixty thousand dollars per year. But one of their former colleagues believes the raises are illegal and is calling on lawmakers to repeal the increases at a time when the Government of Guam's finances are at their worst.

"If it's not illegal, let's see it," simply stated former Guam senator Robert Klitzkie. Since an earlier report by KUAM of senators' salaries increasing to $60,000 a year, Klitzkie has been doing his own research. The way he sees things, lawmakers got a raise they're not entitled to saying the enactment of Public Law 21-59 back in September 1991 gave the Civil Service Commission the authority to reduce and set a senator's salary which has been $55,503.

Klitzkie contends the law has been clear on a lawmaker's annual pay even when the legislature implemented a reduction in salaries for several months in 2003. He said, "That statute then repeals by implication the earlier statute that provided the linkage between judges and senators, so then I put all the pieces together."

The former lawmaker says he brought his concerns to committee on rules chairman Senator Rory Respicio two months ago and had hoped for an analysis but only received a response today, telling him his "legal" analysis is faulty and defective. Respicio even accused Klitkzie of trying to impugn his character, saying, "I just wanted him to respond to what I had very carefully set out or the other alternative, to rescind the pay raise because as I pointed out I don't think the pay raise is well taken."

Recpisio responded by saying, "I don't think Senator Bob Klitzkie's gonna get any sympathy from me in terms of what he's trying to do here because I'm just following what the law tells us our salary ought to be."

Senator Respicio meanwhile contends his former colleague is simply confused about the pay issue, saying Public Law 27-05 clearly sets the compensation of senators at half of the annual salary of superior court judges.  While the same section of the public law temporarily reduced senators' salaries, Respicio says the pay was to be returned to original levels. "No matter how many times I e-mail him, the couple times I spoke with him, he just won't take anything other than he wants me to restore the salaries to $55,000, whereas senators are being paid right now $60,000."

As we reported, senators were given the raises late last year as well as retroactive pay since they took office in the 30th Legislature. Senator Respicio contends the raises are justified even at a time when the hay study was suspended for thousands of government workers, saying, "When you look at our budget versus our salaries versus our productivity level, we seem to be doing more with less and we seem to be doing many cost cutting initiatives so do you reward a branch of government just as the courts have argued, that the more you save the more you're penalized?"

But former senator Klitzkie isn't at all convinced saying he expects more from lawmakers. He told KUAM News, "I would think that maybe there would be some sense that maybe we shouldn't take a pay raise right now when the hay raises for the whole government had to be pulled back because we don't have any money. Watch a little television, watch a little KUAM and you'll see that we're talking about the Retirement Fund, not making contributions, I don't want to comment on whether that's correct or incorrect, but that just shows you where we are.

"So it seems to me that this is not a good time for senators to take a pay raise under any circumstances."

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