Democrats discuss universal health care, free college, bureaucratic reforms
By Aurora Kohn
The Democratic Party’s senatorial candidates shared the highlights of their respective platforms during a legislative forum hosted on Wednesday by the Guam Women’s Chamber of Commerce at the Guam Community College’s multipurpose auditorium.
The candidates proposed their solutions to a host of problems plaguing the island, including the drug epidemic, inadequate health care, homelessness, and a surge in crime.
They also talked about improving the delivery of government services, funding infrastructure, addressing education issues, and creating a sustainable economy for Guam.
Economy, taxes and sustainability
Kelly Marsh-Taitano, a former senator, said she will revive her proposal for the creation of the Inter-Regional Commerce Commission.
“We have a long history between all of us in Micronesia and the Indo-Pacific region,” she said. “What it does is take our historical ties, our historic networks; it looks for economic and other opportunities and builds on it.”
Guam, for example, provides produce to the Marshall Islands and should further explore similar opportunities to meet the needs of the region.
As for the business privilege tax, Marsh-Taitano said “creating a balance” is key to a possible rollback.
She noted that the military will spend up to $1.2 billion per year on contracts for Guam projects. A BPT rollback would deprive the government of $50 million in estimated tax revenues from those contracts.
Sen. Joe San Agustin said the legislature has to figure out a way of “getting the tax breaks to women.” He also said women should be given priority in government contracting.
Jonathan Savares said he wants to create sustainability programs such as community gardens and other community-based economic opportunities.
“Sustainability to me is for our island to go back exactly where we are able to produce enough food for ourselves,” he said, “to produce energy for ourselves, to produce things that allow us to continue to live here instead of the massive importation that we have seen here for years.”
For San Agustin, sustainability means “the ships stop coming.”
“I take the Singaporean approach where we can try to do it. I know it’s kind of hard but if we put our minds together, we can probably do something like that,” he said. “I will support all types all legislation to encourage businesses that produce for our island.”
Health care and reproductive choice
Speaker Tina Muna Barnes said she will revisit her previous proposal to explore universal health care for Guam, using federal grants.
“Just recently we’ve received millions of dollars. But resources don’t come here if we don’t do our job to facilitate them. So we need to look at federal resources also that can help us,” Muna- Barnes added.
Sarah Thomas-Nededog said it is necessary for more “people to get into the health field.”
“We need to create scholarships and other programs. I really believe that that is the way forward to have more and more folks involved in the field of health care,” Thomas-Nededog said.
Speaking about reproductive health, San Agustin suggested that Guam voters decide on reproductive choice through a referendum.
He expressed reservation with the pending Guam Heartbeat Act, noting it does not provide exemptions to situations that involve rape, incest and medical conditions.
Roy Quinata supports reproductive choice. However, he added, “I don’t think that I should be making this decision for you. That is something very private. We should not be focusing on women’s rights but we should be focusing on health care rights as a whole.”
PPP and bureaucratic reforms
William Parkinson said collection of delinquent taxes is “one of the areas that are ripe for public-private partnerships.”
He said another government function that can be opened to public-private partnerships is screening at the port.
“I believe we only screen 10 percent of the cargo that comes through the port,” he said. “If we were able to screen more at the port, we will really be able to make a dent in the drug trade, the meth and all of the things that are really poisonous to the community.”
Sen. Sabina Perez supports partnerships with the private sector for improving the technological aspects of running the government and making it more efficient and less costly to operate.
Former police chief Fred Bordallo said one of his priorities it to look into government expenditures and conduct a cost-benefit analysis. “Would it hurt the government to the point where it cannot operate and give the essential services of health, public safety and education? There has to be a balance,” he said.
Thomas-Nededog cited the need to remove barriers to affording a home and to provide alternatives to those who cannot afford to acquire their own homes.
Muna Barnes said existing laws that unnecessarily restrict housing opportunities must go.
She also identified available housing grants that eligible residents can avail of. A local program offers $10,000 in financial assistance, which first-time home buyers can use for the downpayment.
Perez said a multi-pronged approach is necessary to tackle the drug problem. Drug education for the youth is key. Enforcement of laws against the importation of drugs is also important and she cited the restoration of the ability to interdict drugs coming through the mail.
She also cited the need for mental health outreach so fewer people turn to drugs.
Parkinson said part of addressing the drug problem is making sure that people have enough economic opportunities so that they do not turn to drugs and crime.
He said drug addicts should be treated as patients and rehabilitated. “That we should come down with great wrath to people who peddle these poisons to our community,” he added.
San Agustin said Guam needs to start testing students to ensure they are prepared and able to earn a degree.
Muna Barnes said Guam now has the funds to fix its schools “but the legal mechanism is not there.”
She said she will continue to work with DOE leadership and the governor “to responsibly remove any procurement barrier” to safe schools.
Parkinson said free college and trade school education should be made available, especially for positions that are needed on Guam.
“We have a nursing shortage? Let’s offer some free schooling for nurses. Same for teachers because we can use that as a mechanism to retain people here in Guam,“ he said.
Quinata said education should be a partnership between the government and the community.
Perez suggested the expansion of satellite programs in high schools based on the GCC model. “What if we can expand the offerings so that it creates a pipeline into the positions that we need, “ she said.