Governor, Chamber see state of Guam's economy from different windows
Leon Guerrero endorses pay raises for GovGuam; Business sector nixes Bill 24-37
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero on Sunday called for a special legislative session to address the proposed $23 million appropriation for the government of Guam employees, which was derailed at the committee on rules last week and opposed by the Guam Chamber of Commerce.
“We have an opportunity to make right for our government employees an adjustment that has been withheld from them for too long, an adjustment that, for many, will drastically improve their standard of living, and the lives of their children and families,” Leon Guerrero said in a letter to Speaker Therese Terlaje.
“It is incomprehensible that any leader would choose not to make right this wrong when the opportunity and the means to do so are well within our reach,” the governor said in endorsing Bill 24-37, which would support a 22 percent increase in the general pay plan for the government of Guam.
The Guam Chamber of Commerce, on the other hand, asked the legislature to reject the bill, arguing that raising government pay is ill-timed.
Disputing the governor’s claim in her state of the island address that Guam has entered “an era of prosperity,” the Chamber said the island’s residents “are all living in extremely challenging times.”
Catherine Castro, Chamber president, advised GovGuam to operate the same way the business sector does by managing resources based on what it can afford.
“In the private sector, businesses are always monitoring operating expenses and adjusting their budgets accordingly. The government needs to do the same,” Castro said.
“Business owners are required to make a profit in order to pay the taxes that our government relies upon to operate,” Castro said. “They must balance competitive salaries, cost of doing business, and when possible, they must reserve for unforeseen challenges such as the Covid pandemic.”
In her state of the island address last week, the governor touted Guam’s economic recovery, buoyed by stronger tourism and increased defense investments.
But Castro maintained that the business sector is still grappling for survival.
“A person who paints a business owner as greedy (while they struggle to survive and provide not only services to their customers, but a living to their employees) lacks a basic understanding of economics,” she said.
Leon Guerrero, however, maintained that pay raises for GovGuam employees are long overdue.
“For years, agency officials throughout the executive branch and the Guam Department of Education have raised the alarm that the GPP pay scale implemented nearly a decade ago is no longer competitive enough to recruit and retain personnel critical to the public interest,” she said.
Making pay adjustments “is the right thing to do,” the governor said.
Castro, however, believes otherwise.
“It is wrong to state that government employees have not received salary adjustments when in fact, they have been receiving their annual increments,” she said.
Castro noted that the Chamber represents 400 companies and institutions that employ approximately 30,000 residents, while the government serves the general public, not just a select few that are employed on the government's payroll.
“Any action the government takes must benefit all, not some,” she added. “We are asking the Guam legislature to take a good look at what is before our island and make the right decision for all the people of Guam,"
The chamber head urged the legislature to prioritize the urgent needs of the community, such as public safety, education and health care.
“Crime is a significant concern for all residents. Schools are in a deplorable state, rundown, and in danger of closing,” Castro said. “The infrastructure of our GMH is on the verge of collapse. Our village roads, public parks, and public restrooms need major renovation, maintenance and care. The list is long and goes on.”
The governor called for a special session at 10 a.m. Monday to tackle Se. Joe San Agustin's Bill 24-37.
The legislature is set to hold a special session at 2 p.m. Monday to deliberate another set of bills, including Sen. Chris Duenas' Bill 32-37, which would appropriate $30 million to the Guam Department of Education for school infrastructure repairs.
"We urgently need to address the appalling conditions of our public schools. The status quo is just unacceptable. The children and parents of GDOE deserve so much better," Sen. Jesse Lujan said.
Lujan earlier asked the governor to declare a state of emergency at GDOE.
"To which she replied that the power to solve the problems plaguing GDOE rests with the legislature," Lujan said. "Enough is enough. The legislature can do its part by going into the session and acting on the three bills that can begin to provide relief. "
Also on the agenda is Sen. Chris Barnett's Bill 29-37, which would update sanitation regulations at public schools.
“This legislation will also provide tools to expedite the transition to acceptable levels of standards for our public school system,” Barnett said.
Senators will also discuss Sen. Sabina Flores' Bill 46-37, which would expedite the resolution of procurement protests for acquisitions funded with the American Rescue Plan alloted to the education department.