Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Jason, Freddy Kruger, Michael Myers and the Austerity Holiday, MV 7

I wrote about this original ten percent cut/austerity holiday back before my column and before this blog took off -- when it was just a second home for my letters to the editor to the Variety. While austerity is dead for now, the Fitial Administration is trying to resucitate it and make it worse than ever. Teachers somehow think they are immune - if they're awake or aware at all. Maybe this quote was unclear: "We are proposing that all 14 holidays for FY 2008 be unpaid holidays. Only those government employees who work on a holiday will be paid. We expect savings of $6.5 million as a result of unpaid holidays. The participation of all government employees — including NMC, MVA, PSS — is a must. No exemptions,” said the governor. 9/13 Marianas Variety

Bold is Beautiful

By Jeffrey C. Turbitt

Lots of things are going on in the CNMI of late, many of them with little scrutiny, as the casino issue seems to be taking up everyone's energy on both sides of that debate, which is becoming overblown and tiring with the exaggerated rhetoric on both sides. The issue with the most scant debate is the Fitial Administration's latest "austerity holiday," which seems designed to avoid difficult decisions about the bloated bureaucracy and to keep political cronies fully employed at the expense of docking the pay of teachers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, police officers and other essential services that have employees who do more meaningful, necessary, harder to staff work.

In teachers' case at least, the PSS contract pays teachers for 190 work days. In order to give the government more time to come up with the money for salaries, the paychecks are spread out over the full year. No big deal. But now the cash strapped government, apparently not strapped enough over the last year to avoid taking junkets to Hawaii, hiring a new lobbyist, funding MVA with millions even though it can't put up a respectable CNMI website, hiring a public relations firm and paying off Dr. Jesus Camacho to the tune of $4,000 per month for all the letters to the editor he wrote during the campaign, wants to not pay everyone for 14 holidays unless those employees actually work that day -- something possible for nurses, doctors and police officers, but not for teachers. So teachers and others are a house vote away from having their contracts violated and losing 13 days pay, not to mention being treated like convenience store clerks instead of the college educated professionals they are.

Teachers and others are putting up as much fight as a sea slug after electroshock therapy on this issue, which is perhaps a normal reaction given the daily barrage of bad news everyone is accustomed to hearing. With limited funds, I'd probably stick it to the teachers too given what zombies they are and how little political price there is in robbing them, but that is what is happening with little awareness or concern about what is close to happening. PSS doesn't want to take a position on this bill, I asked them, and neither did several teachers I asked. It’s sad how little will there is to enforce the tax code via collections, an issue brought up by candidates in the Wednesday Roundtable discussions at San Vicente Elementary School each Wednesday at 7:00 pm including the Board of Education candidates tonight, consider a new tax on those that can most afford it such as those property taxless mansions on the hill, or just cut out more waste rather than rubber stamp this lousy new version of the ill named “austerity holiday.”

In other recent matters, the legislative override to lower the residential power rates wasn't much of a shock, and the power has been suspiciously unstable more than usual since the override. The governor was being honest and prudent, not expedient, in vetoing the bill. I’ll give him credit there. CUC, like most things on this island, is run ineptly.

It seemed like there were at least fewer power outages with the higher rates as people conserved. I would expect more outages now, and that will drive businesses away and further our economic collapse. Driving to the Red Cross 200 on Saturday, I noticed Garapan started the big night in darkness.

There was no business reduction in the power rates, so the businesses still have the high rates and can expect more outages as well. This is an election year gambit. There is no plan in place to fund the financial shortfall this will cause, and this override is another signal to any possible firms who would run a privatized power company that the politicians will do whatever is politically expedient. CUC needs close oversight for waste, abuse and corruption, not candy thrown to voters a month before an election.

Half the problem is our Jurassic and economy of scale requirement to have a diesel engine power plant, which no one thought wise to maintain. It is interesting to see this debate over nuclear power, which will require elected officials to spend a lot of time doing their homework and making a wise decision on the viability of a nuclear plant – a prospect that is hard to imagine.

On a positive note, people who went on this past Saturday night saw a rare thing for at least one night -- a booming CNMI economy. The Red Cross Club 200 brought out lots of Saipan celebrities and raised money for a good cause. I booed heartily as the word Joeten went out for the Grand Prize winner, who did then generously donate the money back to the Red Cross, who chose a new winner. I haven’t received any thanks from Margaret Muna for the subtle pressure that helped get her the $15,000 grand prize on the second chance. Everyone was in a festive mood at this well organized event, and people were out having fun and boosting the economy in various locations after the event. For one night there was a palpable sense of optimism on island, and it was nice to see.

Jeffrey C. Turbitt is the language arts department chairman at Saipan Southern High School, as well as an avid scuba diver and traveler. He offers more thoughts in his blog “Hypercritical Thoughts” at: www.turbittj.blogspot.com/ He welcomes feedback, tips and story ideas at turbittj@yahoo.com.


lil_hammerhead said...

My only problem with your questioning so harshly this "austerity holiday" bill, is the fact that you didn't do the same last time. Well, I venture to say that's because the last one didn't affect you.

I agree with you that a someone on the hill needs to come up with a comprehensive plan. I've posted this comment a number of times on my own blog. But as far as the "austerity holiday" idea goes, there wasn't any real outrage or discussion about the last round. Now that it is retooled in such a way that it affects government employees fairly and evenly.. it is questioned.

It is sad, but at some point the pain and grief need to be spread evenly. And yes, that means teachers. I know a number of government employees making squat. I'm talking about $10,000 a year. I'll use one woman as an example. She's been working for the government for six years now. She makes $10,600 per year. She works hard. The previous austerity holidays brought her pay down to $8,800 per year. She is a single mother with two kids. While she suffered through the austerity holidays, I didn't see one single letter to the editor focused primarily on the ills of the austerity holiday.

There needs to be a plan, until then the suffering should be spread around equitably.

Jeff said...

I did do so the same last time and more. Maybe you're "delusional."

marianas life said...

there are pss employees making $5 an hour who were hurt by the austerity days and will be by the holiday cuts as well. Teachers, make more than some, but we are still underpaid for what we do. I am expected to shell out thousands of dollars to be a teacher and must continue to go to school to keep my credentials similar to doctors and lawyers, yet i make 1/4 of what they do. lets not pit teachers against low wage gov. workers. no one should be expected to live off of $10,000 a year. it is not a living wage, but to imply that i shouldn't be complaining about a pay cut because i make more is insulting.

Jeff, it's not that i "don't have a position" i just didn't get a chance to send you comments. too much going on i guess.

you are right though, this is just one more ordeal, one more crisis and i've already decided i can't take any more of them and will be leaving in june, so what's the point....

for those of you who think teachers get paid too much or should just accept the cut, keep this in mind. I'm in a professional position that requires a college degree and i'm only working 3/4 of the year. if i were working 12 months out of the year, i'd make more money. the way i look at it, my pay is lower than it should be because its prorated for 3/4 of year instead of a whole year and that's fine. teachers need time off to recoop. especially teachers here. i used to teach on a reservation and this place makes the rez look like an upper middle class school in suburbian America.

i also work under a contract that says i get paid for 190 days. so if you are going to not pay me for 14 days, then reduce my contract obligation by 14 days. i'll gladly take the days off. i need it.

i agree with jeff about looking at other gov. expenditures. likewise, if the 14 days are added, i suggest a constitutional amendment to change legistlator salaries as well and get rid of their discretionaary funds and benies for travel etc.

lil_hammerhead said...

My bad Jeff. Should have read your piece a bit closer and followed the link.

Comeon though Jeff.. don't just take a swipe at my response to posts on my blog here. Respond to the comment. I didn't call you "delusional". I said that if you thought that lobbying wasn't the way things work in the US Congress, you are "delusional".

Galvin Deleon Guerrero said...

When you factor in the extra hours teachers clock in for grading, lesson-planning, tutoring, advising extra-curriculars, and working on other special assignments and special projects--none of which teachers get paid for--you find that teachers get paid even less than they should. While other government employees would demand and get paid overtime for such work, teachers don't.

Maybe they should.

lil_hammerhead said...

I don't know about you, but I worked for two different government agencies (other than PSS) here for five years. We (my coworkers and I) worked many late nights and many weekends.. not a single one of us ever got one single hour of overtime. We knew the situation with the government and we didn't even ask for it. I get a little sick of teachers moaning and groaning about expenses in the classroom and hours worked overtime without pay. It's not that this isn't honorable.. it is. But I think teachers don't realize that a great many government employees are spending out of pocket, using their own vehicles to do vast amounts of office related work and working overtime and weekends regularly without any additional compensation (and over the past year with alot less compensation). On top of that, there hasn't been a regular pay increment for nearly seven years.

So as honorable as it is.. it gets kind of tiring to hear teachers point themselves out all of the time as if they're martyrs or something.

The PSS moan and groan is wearing thin. Especially when a whole lot of folks are suffering, and many suffering, or sacrificing if you'd prefer, quietly.