Guam “is stronger than it was just a one year ago,” government finances are better managed and local tourism remains in the black amid the global coronavirus scare, Gov. Lourdes Leon Guerrero said in her state of the island address to the 35th Guam Legislature on Monday.
“But to fully restore faith in our island’s future, Guam must become even stronger,” the governor said.
Dismissing criticisms from what she called “a small chorus of cynics” and claiming she has fulfilled her campaign promises, Leon Guerrero said the administration has improved government cash flow and raised tax collections beyond the legislative projection.
“Our fiscal year 2021 budget proposes a general fund $19 million less than what was spent in 2018,” the governor said.
With a Rainy Day Fund, equivalent to 2 percent of the total revenues projection, Leon Guerrero said Guam will be able to survive its economic seas, no matter how rough it may get.
“We’ve also gone after tax evaders, referring individual cases to the attorney general, totaling $5.9 million in the last year alone. And we will continue,” the governor said.
The first Democrat to be elected to Adelup since Carl Gutierrez ended his term in 2002, Leon Guerrero is serving her second year in office. While her Republican predecessors oftentimes clashed with with the legislative branch, Leon Guerrero remains in a honeymoon period, enjoying full backing from a women-dominated Democratic Party-led legislature.
“The road toward this effort has not always been smooth, but our progress has been significant,” Leon Guerrero said.
“Our unemployment rate is down. The labor participation rate is up. And more than one thousand people have joined skilled apprenticeship programs since Josh and I came to office,” the governor said.
Although industry stakeholders report seat cancellations, Leon Guerrero noted that tourism remains healthy.
“While we remain confident, my fiscal team is keeping a close watch on the situation—preparing for all possibilities and monitoring the economic impacts of this new threat,” she said.
The governor stands firm on her position to retain the minimum wage increase law. “Our minimum wage is set to increase by 50 cents next week—and it will,” she said.
Other highlights from the address:
On taxes: “We’ve cut taxes for our small businesses, saved millions on capital improvement projects because we refinanced debt in more responsible ways, secured millions in new federal spending for Guam, and adopted policies that will reduce, and eventually eliminate, this government’s deficit.
“Tax refunds were paid before the federal court’s deadline. Cost of living allowances were paid early, and we now get a better return on our Medicaid matching dollars because we were able to shrink Guam’s local match requirement by 62 percent.
On diseases outbreak: Guam coronavirus free, and our dengue fever outbreak is over, the governor said.
“From day one, our pandemic response plan has worked to keep Guam safe and open to the world,” Leon Guerrero said.
The administration, she said, is working with the Centers for Disease Control and public health officials to screen visitors from impacted countries before they board planes.
“It means that we take clear steps to limit the risk of transmission whenever possible,” she said. “That is why I ask every organization holding large international events on Guam to join in our screening efforts—adding yet another defensive ring around our island.”
On public safety: "The machete attack that threatened our neighbors in Mangilao last June could have happened to any of us, and it proves that we must stem the rising tide of crime on our island," the governor said.
The public safety town hall meetings, she said, has spawned Safer Guam Initiative, which calls for aggressively recruiting 100 new police officers, installing traffic cameras, regulating alcohol access, stopping drugs at Guam's borders.
"These actions send a clear message: Enough is enough. I have directed all of our law enforcement agencies to work together, combining their resources, talents, and intelligence in an effort to stamp out violent crime wherever it is."
"I want to thank Senators Joe San Agustin and Pedo Terlaje for providing me with budgetary flexibility to invest in police officers again. I know their brothers and sisters in blue thank them as well.
Read full transcript of the state of the island here.