Administration begins review of 2024 spending bill
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
The Office of the Governor today said it has begun reviewing the government of Guam's $1.16 billion budget for fiscal 2024 passed by the legislature on a 9-6 vote along party lines on Wednesday.
Democrats said they "prioritized people over politics" to pass Bill 26-37 before the government’s new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.
But Republicans warned that each Guam resident would shoulder the burdens of the 2024 budget, the largest in the history of the Guam government, and "should give every taxpayer great pause."
"We have a population at its lowest since the year 2000. Business activity is not nearly as good as it was just before the global Covid pandemic. Confidence in government is waning by the day," the Republican Party of Guam said in a statement. "We as a community need to be prepared for what this FY2024 GovGuam budget will bring. We ask our community to watch its implementation closely."
The 2024 budget appropriates $248 million for the Department of Education, $51 million for Guam Police Department and $38 million for the Guam Fire Department, $198 million for Public Health and $30 million for the Guam Memorial Hospital.
"There were a number of amendments that were passed during budget deliberations that require a thorough review," states a press release from the governor's office. "The governor will, as always, decide her course of action in the best interest of Guam’s people."
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has 10 days to act on the 170-page appropriations bill.
The measure also proposes to give the governor $60 million in transfer authority over the next 12 months and mandates a 22 percent pay increase for all government employees.
"We believe that our people are the heart of our island as well as the backbone of our workforce, thus during this budget act we adopted and appropriated for the General Pay Plan which mandates a 22 percent pay increase for all government of Guam employees, to ensure competitive and livable wages for our island’s people," said Sen. Joe San Agustin, chair of the appropriations committee.
"We acknowledge the increasing need for greater support in our island’s law enforcement recruitment process. We are committed to ensuring the safety of our people, thus allocating additional resources for more recruit cycles for Guam’s law enforcement departments, towards creating a safer community for our island," San Agustin said in a separate statement.
Democrats said they "combed through every revenue source and looked at every need to strike a budgeting balance that places people-centric policies over fear of the future."
"After many budget hearings with various agencies and departments and weeks of debate on how we will fund our government and provide the resources to our hard-working people, we depart this sacred hall with confidence that our work to support and provide the services and programs our people need will be available to them in the next fiscal year," San Agustin said.
The Democrats voted yes on the bill: Speaker Therese M. Terlaje, Vice Speaker Tina Rose Muna Barnes, and Sens. Amanda L. Shelton, Roy A.B Quinata, Chris Barnett, Sabina F. Perez, Dwayne San Nicolas, and William Parkinson.
Republicans voted no: Sens. Frank Blas Jr., Joanne M. Brown, Christopher M. Duenas, Thomas J. Fisher, Jesse A. Lujan, and Telo T. Taitague.
However, the Republican Party maintained that the approved spending level wasn't reasonable.
"Ask questions of those nine lawmakers who passed 26-37 each time you see them. Ask them if their Organic Act of Guam-mandated effort reflects the reality our territory faces today and into the foreseeable future," the minority party said, adding that Republican senators tried to keep the cost down.
In voting against the appropriations measure, Sen. Telo Taitague said, "I will not sign my name to any bill, provision, or measure that proposes to raid GovGuam’s Rainy Day Fund for any reason that is not a public emergency."
“If we want to budget maturely and responsibly, we’ve got to stop appropriating phantom money and emergency funds for personal projects and waffling between blackmail provisions to force action. We’ve got to mean what we say, do what we say, and stand our ground.”
Taitague takes issue with a number of provisions within the substituted Bill 26-37 as amended, including the majority party’s removal of a Democrat-sponsored amendment that ultimately would have ensured that the Guam Department of Education received all of its appropriations.
Taitagueopposed salary increases amid GMH's outstanding obligations and GDOE's pending completion of school repairs.
Taitague also raised "serious concern" about the use of unaudited excess revenue from fiscal years 2022 and 2023 as funding sources for various projects and programs.
“My Republican colleagues and I did our best to create a fiscally responsible budget so that GovGuam can prepare to operate without the federal relief funds we’ve become dependent on,” Taitague said.
“While some of our efforts were successful, the Democrats have included provisions to raid the Rainy Day Fund and appropriate millions of dollars in unaudited excess revenue from previous fiscal years for unnecessary budgetary increases. This is a fiscally irresponsible practice that will hurt our people when federal dollars run dry.”