By Pacific Island Times News Staff
Speaker Therese Terlaje today reiterated her appeal to her colleagues to accelerate action on a bill that would repeal Guam’s liquid fuel tax.
Terlaje’s Bill 261-36, which has been stalled in the appropriations committee, has finally been reported out but still needs two more votes in order to be penciled in for next month’s session.
“It is our duty as policymakers to decide on tax policy with diligence and responsibility, not by political gamesmanship and misleading statements,” Terlaje said. “Gas prices have been rising since the beginning of the year and we have had the opportunity to provide relief to our residents, families, and businesses for four months now.”
Bill 261-36 would lift the 23 cents per gallon levy on gas purchased at the pumps.
“I urge the people of Guam to call their senators to reconsider their position on providing permanent relief to all gas consumers and asking committee members to vote to report out Bill 261-36,” Terlaje said.
Vice Speaker Tina Muna Barnes, Sens. Amanda Shelton, Clynton Ridgell, Jose “Pedo” Terlaje and Mary Torres have yet to vote on the committee report, which was routed to committee members last Friday.
Bill 261-36, which was introduced on Feb. 22, has competing versions. Sen. James Moylan’s Bill 290-36 proposes to exempt liquid fuel purchases from business privilege tax. Sen. Joe San Agustin, chairman of the appropriations committee, introduced an alternative proposal to impose a 180-day moratorium on liquid fuel tax.
In introducing Bill 295-36, San Agustin argued that Terlaje’s fuel tax repeal would result in a $20 million drop in revenue earmarked for repairs of Guam’s secondary roads estimated at almost $20 million a year.
Terlaje said San Agustin introduced his legislation 12 days after she sent a draft substitute Bill 261-36.
“The only fundamental difference between Bill 261-36 and the chairman’s bill is that Substitute Bill 261-36 repeals liquid fuel taxes permanently as opposed to the chairman’s bill that places a 180-day moratorium on liquid fuel taxes,” Terlaje said.
She said her substitute bill would assuage concerns raised at the public hearing, but would not have made any substantive changes to the mechanics of the bill.
With the changes to Bill 261-36, the fiscal impact is estimated to be $8 million annually and only $2.8 million for the last four months of FY 2022, based on calculations using initial estimates provided by the Department of Revenue and Taxation.
“It was clear from the public hearing on Bill 261-36 in April when the general fund was showing $61 million in excess of adopted revenues that my bill was not going to impact the FY 2022 appropriations of any agencies funded by liquid fuel taxes,” Terlaje said.
“This is further evidenced with the competing bill by the chairman which temporarily repeals the liquid fuel tax in FY 2022 and for a portion of FY 2023. If there was truly a threat to the agencies’ budgets as asserted in the media, he would not have introduced a bill to temporarily repeal the liquid fuel taxes using the same funding source (i.e. FY 2022 excess general fund revenues) as Bill 261-36,” she added.
She also clarified that Bill 261-36 “never attempted to direct federal money for any potential gaps left by repealing the gas taxes, nor would it short any government agency funding for FY 2022 or beyond. These statements mislead the people of Guam on the intent and actual provisions contained within the bill.”
Last week, Moylan staged a protest in front of the Guam Congress Building, reiterating his request for the speaker to call an emergency session to initiate discussions on fuel-related bills.
“My objectives are simple, if we don’t continue to push this issue, another month would have gone by, gas prices would continue to escalate to $6.50-$7.00 a gallon, and island residents would continue to struggle at the fuel pumps,” Moylan said.