The past seven years: territorial address


(Gov. Eddie Baza Calvo, who is serving his last year in Adelup, delivered his final State of the Territory address before members of the 34th Guam Legislature at the Congress Building in Hagatna on Feb. 13, 2018. Following is the full transcript of his address released by the Office of the Governor.)

Hafa Adai, good evening, my friends, my family, my fellow Guamanians, benedision ginen guahu yan dankolo na si Yu’us ma’ase ni finatton miyu pago.

Lt. Governor Tenorio, Speaker Cruz, Chief Justice Maraman, military leadership, and distinguished members of the 34th Guam Legislature, my Cabinet, my family, and my dear people of Guam:

We, here today, are blessed with a legacy of patience, perseverance and strength. The people of Guam have struggled through colonization that threatened our very existence and then fought for our very lives in the anguish of World War II. Our manamko, the greatest generation, did more than survive war; they rebuilt this island to be a shining example of what could be. Their sheer determination and will to live and thrive are a reminder that we are as strong as the latte. Though we are a small island in the Pacific – no matter what is thrown in our direction — we will persevere. We are a resilient and exceptional people. History has shown this.

AT THE BEGINNING

About seven years ago, Ray and I stood before you — ready to do our part. We have worked to forge a path that would lead our community to its greatest heights, and help our people achieve their version of the Guamanian Dream.

Tonight, I stand before you to report that the state of our island is strong, however, in the next few days we face decisions that will determine whether we continue the great progress already established or if we allow outside forces to erode the accomplishments we have built. As we consider the precipice upon which we stand, we must look at where we started, the progress we’ve made, the challenges we’ve overcome, and the new hurdles that lay before us today.

In fiscal year 2011, we walked into a Government of Guam that had a deficit of tax refunds and vendor payables nearing $400 million. The government’s financial position hindered its ability to provide an adequate level of services to Guamanians.

  • In 2011, our community of 160,000 had one, sometimes two, working ambulances – a state of non-readiness that threatened the lives of our families.

  • We didn’t have enough police vehicles to patrol our streets.

  • Your police officers were paid a little over minimum wage. Promised salary adjustments weren’t fulfilled. As a result, GPD personnel were leaving the Guam Police Department.

  • For decades, the people of Guam had to beg for their tax refunds or wait for years. By the time this administration was in Adelup in 2011, GovGuam owed you nearly $270 million, going back five even six years.

  • Unpaid COLA to retirees amounted to $20 million

  • Our working poor, for years, were denied Earned Income Tax Credit, which was meant to put a few extra dollars in the pockets of those of our people who need it most.

  • The Department of Corrections had been under a permanent court injunction for about 20 years.

  • We were already a few years into federal receivership at the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center, as well as the Guam Solid Waste Authority.

  • High schools like George Washington High, John F. Kennedy and Okkodo High were dangerously overcrowded … and Untalan Middle School had sewage seeping out from the girls and boys’ restrooms.

  • We had 1,745 homeless people on Guam.

  • Unemployment was over 13%

THE WORK

About 84 months later, by working together, we were able to make progress.

As an administration, we started with opening the ranks to a diverse group of citizens. We filled our administration with individuals who had gained wisdom and institutional knowledge through public service over the years, we welcomed younger generations and people from different backgrounds with new ideas.

It didn’t matter on which side of the political divide they lived, democrat or republican, whether they were a man or a woman, or from what island or continent their ancestors came. What mattered was their integrity, and their desire to serve and make a difference in the lives of our people.

This diverse group of public servants were catalysts for new ideas that birthed opportunities and took advantage of the crossroad at which we found ourselves.

Several of our agencies and programs had been placed under federal oversight. We were at a point, where either we folded as a government and a people, to the will of Washington DC — only to serve their federal consent decrees – or we determined our own path forward, living up to the legacy of ingenuity and strength that our ancestors left to us. Ray and I, with the help of Guamanians across the island, chose the latter.

We reinvented our government with the understanding that it should be an instrument to protect and promote the lives of the people of the island of Guam … an instrument to help their search for the Guamanian Dream.

Our next steps forward were focused on the premise that this government of Guam was entrusted with the responsibility to provide our people with a hand up — not a handout — so that they would have the tools they need to solve their own problems.

I knew that we needed to correct a few things. Our government shouldn’t owe the people. We set forth a goal to repay tax refunds, and promised salary adjustments to our safety officers and outstanding merit bonuses to GovGuam employees who had been waiting for decades.

In early 2011, we sent a bill to the Legislature and by the end of the year paid nearly $270 million in tax refunds owed for returns filed as far back as 2006.

The lawsuit always referred to as being responsible for paying tax refunds was actually filed after the fact. The attorneys had to amend their lawsuit because we had started paying tax refunds while they were still filing legal briefs. Also, the court came down with their determination in 2013, as we were paying out a third year of tax refunds. The results of that lawsuit were 1) lawyers pocketed a few million dollars, which could have gone towards paying more tax refunds; and 2) the court took away our ability to prioritize refunds for people facing hardships.

  • To date, we have put more than $1.3 billion in tax refunds into your pockets. And we’re returning your money to you within months because your administration exercises smart financial management. We are paying out more tax refunds in history, we’re also doing it at a savings in interest. Additionally, we’ve paid out more EITC than any other administration, at about $350 million in the last seven years.

  • Today we have 13 working ambulances.

  • GPD has a whole fleet of vehicles and within the next two months they will have enough for a second fleet.

  • We’ve fulfilled the promise of increased compensation to your police officers and all are now earning competitive salaries.

  • Your Lt. Governor worked alongside the Attorney General and the Speaker … and fixed the problems at DOC, thereby lifting the injunction and saving us from the threat of another costly federal receivership.

  • By 2013 the injunction on Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center was lifted and management of the Center was returned to the local government. By July of 2017, they received a three-year accreditation, proving that our island is capable of meeting nationally recognized service standards.

  • We’ve reduced the number of homeless people by half

  • Despite some resistance, the administration was able to renovate Untalan Middle School and open Tiyan High School — providing a healthier and safer learning environment for more than 3,000 students and 100 school teachers and staff.

  • Minimum wage has increased 14 percent - from $7.25 to $8.25

  • And despite the lack of a stable funding source, we still managed to receive accreditation, twice, for the Guam Memorial Hospital since the administration took office.

Until the last day of this administration, there will be more removals so long as non-U.S. citizens commit crimes. And they will all be leaving at the expense of the federal government.

TOGETHER

Much of our progress can be attributed to the cooperative efforts within our government … thank you to all who have risen above political partisanship and have focused on what is best for our people. It is through sheer hard work and determination that we Guamanians have accomplished this much, in spite of a number of federal policies that have handcuffed our economy. How much further could we have progressed if Washington D.C. didn’t hand-down “one-size-fits-all” mandates, and instead we were allowed to participate in discussions that effectuated policies specific to Guam’s economic and political development?

Over the last seven years, investments in Guam have increased, our private sector has grown, the tourism industry – the economic engine of our island – continues to hit record highs, we have tripled the number of air cargo operations, and have more than doubled the number of passenger airlines that serve Guam.

We have seen economic growth; the lowest unemployment rate in years; four fiscal years of surplus; our Gross Domestic Product has increased by $1 billion - from $4.9 billion to $5.8 billion; and we’ve nearly doubled our annual revenues from about $490 million to $900 million. We have built more affordable homes and helped more families gain first-time home ownership.

A few years ago, I said I wanted to see the unemployment rate drop. We did it. We went from 13.3% in 2011 and are at 4.5% as of December 2017!

Despite the hit we received from the H2B denials – leading to the loss of 1,500 skilled H2B workers – there was an increase in employment with 60,820 in 2011 to nearly 63,000 in 2017. Despite reduction in the number of GovGuam workers!

And we did this without the military buildup, which many critics of our local government said would save us. The deep-rooted spirit of the Chamorro people thrived, and with the injection of ideas and effort from our diverse community, we came together as Guamanians, entrepreneurs, and determined citizens to build a new economy.

With the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act and the recent District Court ruling on the H2B visa case, we look forward to augmenting our local construction force with skilled foreign workers. There is no denying that the federal government’s new take on an unchanged federal policy has hurt our economic growth — but I believe we will overcome this particular challenge in the near future and come out stronger.

We have done it before. Even when handcuffed by the Jones Act, the Clean Air and Clean Water Act, and other costly federal policies; or under the threat of bird flu, Zika, typhoons, and even North Korea — Guam has always recovered.

But, can you imagine where we would be if federal policy supported Guam instead of hindered our efforts – from every angle – we would be the most economically dynamic community in America!

In 2011, Guam welcomed 1.1 million visitors. By 2017, we had a record year with nearly 1.6 million visitors. The last four years, have been the best years in the history of our tourism industry.

Another indicator that our economy is strong enough to rebound, even if it takes a hit, is the increase at the beginning of Fiscal Year 2018 in non-containerized cargo to the Port Authority to include construction materials and equipment. We saw a 32% increase in the first quarter of this fiscal year in comparison the same period of the previous year.

What if our growth was unhindered? Where would we be today? Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve seen progress!

The unwavering Guamanian spirit anchors our fierce determination to protect our families. We continue to find ways to deter criminals. I thank the officers of the Guam Police Department for doing more – often times with less – and with the help of Community Partnerships and programs like the Neighborhood Watch Program and the Mandaña Drug Task Force, we have seen a reduction in crime.

In protecting our children, we are at times required to remove them from a potentially dangerous situation at home. Once they’re safely removed, however, our social workers are faced with another dilemma: Where can they go?

In the next few months I look forward to opening our first-ever emergency shelter for foster children. It was an idea that started with the seeds of hope for a better environment for our most vulnerable. From lobbying Municipal Councils to partnering with Public Health and Guam Land Use Commission, First Lady of Guam Christine Calvo and her angels at the Rigalu Foundation tirelessly pushed to make this dream a reality. I ask that we take a moment to thank the lady whose fierce passion drove this project of hope.

For decades, we neglected the working force that we relied upon to provide essential services for our community. In 2014, using the plan created by an independent third party, Hay Group Inc., we implemented salary increases across the board. The Judiciary followed suit, once, they too, knew we could afford it. Salary adjustments for GovGuam were not only well-deserved, but were also necessary to stop the outflow of talent and institutional knowledge. It was the first sweeping salary increase the Government of Guam had seen in more than 20 years. We also paid for promised compensation and merit bonuses for GovGuam employees going back to 1991.

We were able to do all of this because we exercised prudent fiscal management. Thank you to my fiscal team for your countless hours of work and sacrifice.

We controlled hiring and shrunk our government labor force. In 1998, there were 16,980 employees. As of 2017, there were about 11,680 employees. Incidentally, in 1998 the general fund revenue was $500 million…. I also want to note that in the executive agencies directly under my authority, we went from 3,600 workers in 2010, to 3,046 in 2016 — that’s a reduction of 500 employees — 16% reduction.

Your GovGuam employees worked together in unprecedented ways to turn the deficits that existed when we came into office, into surpluses. We increased our investment in education, we fought and continue to fight for a stronger healthcare system, and we have exponentially strengthened our public safety. We reduced crime with the support of a record number of volunteer officers and task forces that include GPD, Customs & Quarantine, rangers from the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Parks and Recreation, and our federal partners.

We worked with Senator Tony Ada and the 33rd Guam Legislature to empower residents to protect their homes, families, and property with the Castle Doctrine.

We also got serious with the federal government. We started deporting non-U.S. citizens who broke the laws and threatened the lives and safety of Guamanians. We caught their attention by commuting sentences of non-U.S. citizens who committed crimes against residents of our island community. Some of these criminals were repeat offenders. They failed to follow the laws of this land. And it is YOU and I … AND OUR CHILDREN … who foot the bill for their stay at DOC. That’s about $119 a day for each inmate or detainee. And it is we who suffer when they are released into the community and repeat their crime.

Numerous conversations with the federal government to deport non-U.S. criminals got us nowhere. In fact, federal officials said that holding accountable migrants who failed to abide by the laws and policies of our nation and island home was NOT A PRIORITY. Two major editorials called for us to cease this policy.

My dear people of Guam …. I did not and will not cease. YOUR SAFETY IS A PRIORITY TO ME.

So I commuted the sentences of five non-U.S. citizens convicted of various crimes and had them removed. On the sixth criminal, the federal government decided to come back to the table. Today, in total, we have more than 40 non-U.S. citizens who have broken the laws of Guam and the United States, who have been removed from this island never to return and hurt another child, woman, or man. If we had to house these criminals until the date of their scheduled release, it would have cost taxpayers roughly 3 million dollars.

Until the last day of this administration, there will be more removals so long as non-U.S. citizens commit crimes. And they will all be leaving at the expense of the federal government.

Just a few years ago, we had more than 800 inmates and detainees at the Department of Corrections — as of December, we have fewer than 640. DOC has instituted a number of programs in cooperation with Guam Community College, Department of Labor, and the Guam Trades Academy — to help p