Where's the spending plan for ARP? Terlaje says governor keeping cards close to her chest
Getting Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero to share with senators the administration's spending plans for Guam's allocation from the American Rescue Plan is like pulling teeth, Speaker Therese Terelaje said as she urged the public to participate in the process.
“We are trying very hard at the legislature to obtain this type of information because it is crucial for our fiscal 2022 budget deliberations," Terlaje said.
"I just believe that does a disservice to us at the Legislature, to their agency and to the public. We want to be able to make informed decisions going forward and that is why we introduced this resolution," she added.
Senators on Friday held a public hearing on Resolution 93-36, which lists the legislature's spending priorities for the $600 million ARP funds from the federal government.
In media interviews, the governor disclosed her intention to earmark $300 million for the development of a new hospital, possibly $37 million to Guam Visitors Bureau, and $30 million for Guam Economic Development Authority for small business assistance.
Some government agencies have also indicated they have requested funds from the governor.
"Unfortunately, some agencies during their budget hearings have not been as forthcoming in regard to their ARP requests to the governor," Terlaje said.
Introduced by Terlaje, Resolution 93-36 incorporates the preliminary list of priorities that were included in a unified letter from all 15 senators of the 36th Guam Legislature to the governor for the proposed use of Guam’s ARP funds.
“This is just the beginning, but it is my goal to ensure this process is as transparent as possible, based on facts and details so that we lay out the best plans so that these funds reach every sector of the community and truly address some of our long-standing obstacles and issues," Terlaje said.
The speaker urged the community "to continue to be vocal in influencing how these funds are spent and to be persistent in holding this government accountable for these funds."
The legislature, she added, will "continue to steer this conversation on how the funds should be used, and support our agencies in order to get the most for all of the people of Guam out of this unprecedented amount of funding.”
During the discussion on the resolution, some community members suggested to use ARP funds on items not currently included in the resolution, such as health insurance and medicine, youth needs, the immediate payment of 2020 tax refunds, and to circumvent potential power rate increases by Guam Power Authority.
“Guam’s unemployment rate is 14.9 percent," former senator Tony Lamorena said. "Sixty-one of private-sector workers are currently unemployed, furloughed, or were reduced hours. Come Sept. 6, PUA expires. What do we do with those people?”
Mayor Jesse Alig asked the governor to support the list prepared by the legislature.
"On the $7 million to the Mayor's Council of Guam, we appreciate that amount and we need that amount for our islandwide cleanup, not only for heavy equipment to continue to support the maintenance and the beautification of the villages but also to actually go in and do a one-time cleanup including the illegal dumping sites that most of the villages face," he said.
Minority Leader Christopher Duenas, a cosponsor of the resolution, said at the end of the day, the governor is the one to make the final decision because she has the spending authority over the grant.
"But I characterize this proposal and the characterizations of it, as a fish or a fishing pole," Duenas said of the resolution.
"Certainly, we understand that the billions of dollars coming in to support our people under PUA have sustained us going forward. We also recognize in this resolution, and I think that’s why all 15 senators were signed on to at least the draft proposal that we have some fish in here as well…$68 million in direct assistance, funding the Rise Act, funding small business recovery which will allow those businesses to maintain employees and keep moving forward and the unrepresented under the Ayuda I Mangafa.”