The fiscal 2022 budget adds $20 million to the provision for tax refunds and the cash will allow refunds to be paid faster, Speaker Therese Terlaje said.
The additional appropriation locked into the tax refunds, Terlaje said, will allow the Department of Revenue and Taxation to catch up on outstanding obligations from prior years.
"With the help of my colleagues, Sens. Sabina Perez, Telo Taitague, Joanne Brown, Vicente “Tony” Ada, Jose “Pedo” Terlaje, Clynt Ridgell, and Frank Blas Jr., I was able to pass an amendment that would capture $20 million in revenues above what was projected for 2021 and place them in a lockbox for tax refunds still outstanding for 2020 and prior years," Terlaje said.
She said the budget bill, with the tax refund amendment, ensures that additional revenues collected in FY 2021 are used only to pay back tax refunds.
"It is my hope that this will signal a change in the culture of prioritizing tax refunds owed to the people of Guam rather than continuing the status quo practice of spending next year’s cash for prior year returns and beginning every fiscal year in the red," Terlaje said.
The budget also contains provisions as follows:
· Provides for pay studies for teacher and law enforcement to be completed within months
· Ensures scholarships are prioritized to entice students to enter fields with long-standing shortages like healthcare, education, and social work.
· Allows for small agencies to continue to operate at the same levels
· Dedicates all highway fund balances for additional roads as I started several years ago
· Continues to allow agencies with critical needs to hire retirees so that we can fill teacher shortages, nurse shortages, social worker shortages
· Directs savings from bond refinancing in FY22 toward food banks to address the continuing needs of struggling families
· Provides funding for stray dog issue that threatens village safety
Terlaje said some of the larger agencies such as the Department of Public Health and Social Services as well as the Guam Memorial Hospital will rely on federal funds this year but we have been assured that they are entitled to those funds already under laws passed by Congress.
" We have also been assured that the Governor has promised to cover any shortfalls for critical healthcare agencies with ARP Funds," the speaker said.
"The FY22 Budget attempts to take the expected new earned income tax reimbursements and set those aside for a new hospital and other uses but I added provisions that I hope will allow Department of Revenue and Taxation the flexibility to enter into an agreement with the federal government to lock those funds directly for refunds as necessary," she added.
As for $600 million in American Rescue Plan funds awarded to Guam, Terlaje said the legislature has yet to receive information from the administration on how it will be expended.
"I sincerely hope the plan will be shared with the people of Guam shortly so we can have a complete picture of how this budget and ARP funds will move our economy forward, improve government services and provide needed assistance and relief to our community," she said.