- By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Senators cast split vote on diversion of recycling fund
Guam senators on Friday voted to reprogram $500,000 from the Recycling Revolving Fund to the University of Guam's "Green Growth Initiative," a move which Sen Sabina Perez said would set a precedent for future raid of the chest.
Perez frowned on her colleagues' action, saying the fund realignment violated an 11-month-old law.
RFF was established by a 2003 law, which did not have rules and regulations on proper use of the fund until last year. In October 2019, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero signed into law Perez's bill that appropriated $2 million from RRF for removal of abandoned vehicles and tires as well as clearing of illegal dump sites.
"I am deeply saddened that the RRF is now being raided in direct violation of the law. Without a public hearing, $500,000 is being removed from the RRF and given to UOG without a formal budget submission and without board oversight and accountability," said Perez, chair of the legislative committee on environment.
The RFF realignment is incorporated into Bill 282-35, the 2021 budget act.
During the budget deliberation, Perez proposed an amendment to remove the $500,000 appropriation for the Guam Green Growth Initiative, which was added to UOG’s revised FY 2021 budget despite there being no record of the university requesting for such funding in the new fiscal year.
RRF is built through collections from annual vehicle registration fees. "Unfortunately, our effort to protect this landmark environmental fund lost by a 7-8 vote," Perez said.
"Throughout most of its 16 year’s existence, the RRF was the point of contention without its rules and regulations. Many times, competing government agencies have sought to raid the fund for unrelated purposes," Perez said.
"In October of last year, this very body unanimously approved Rules and Regulations further protecting the RRF, and we celebrated the depoliticization of this important environmental fund. Unfortunately, our people may now view the actions taken today as hypocritical," she added.
By setting a precedent, Perez said may now become a slush fund for future legislatures.
"Be it next year, or 10 years from now, any future Legislature may point to the precedent set today to justify further raids," Perez said. "Guam EPA will suffer, the mayors will suffer, and the people of Guam will continue to wonder why their government is unable to fund tire and vehicle removal, the cleaning of illegal dump sites and recycling.
Those who voted for Perez's amendment were Vice Speaker Telena Cruz Nelson, Sen. Kelly Marsh Taitano, Sen. Therese Terlaje, Sen. Telo Taitague, Sen. Louise Muna and Sen. James Moylan.
“It is absolutely disturbing that eight senators felt it was okay to fund a new initiative using the limited resources that our people pay into the Recycling Revolving Fund specifically for recycling efforts and waste removal," Taitague said.
"With our hospitals requiring more doctors and nurses to fight Covid-19, public health pleading for more resources, and dozens of unemployed EMT-certified Guamanians – why $500,000 is being prioritized for the Guam Green Growth Initiative over recycling efforts and Covid response is beyond comprehension,” she added.
Taitague reminded her colleagues that senators have an obligation to follow the laws enacted by their predecessors. "We can’t disregard this important responsibility even if a new program that we seek funding for involves our relatives and friends,” she said.
Taitague said prior to voting, the legislature received a letter from 21 mayors and vice-mayors, asking senators to oppose any measure that would tap the RRF for any additional projects without first adequately funding the recycling mandates of the Mayors’ Council of Guam.
"While the mayors and vice-mayors support the goal of the Guam Green Growth Initiative to encourage opportunities to diversify Guam’s economy through sustainability, their letter made clear they do not endorse efforts that would reduce the funding source available to execute their mandated responsibilities including collection, recycling, disposal, and processing, or any combination thereof, of automobiles, buses, heavy equipment, trucks, batteries, tires, white goods, and other recyclable materials," Taitague said.