GUAM SEEKS DEBT FORGIVENESS UNDER U.S. COMPACT

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By Steve Limtiaco

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Mar. 17) - Regional immigrants from the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands have cost the local government more than $200 million since 1986, according to an analysis by the governor's office.

The governor's office has nearly completed its report to the Department of the Interior -- due April 16 -- which shows what the island has spent to provide government services to regional immigrants.

A federal law passed last year allows Guam to submit a one-time request to President Bush this year to offset Guam's immigrant costs by forgiving some of the local government's debts to the federal government.

Citizens of the FSM and the Marshall Islands are allowed to live and work on Guam and elsewhere in the United States because of a 1986 treaty with the United States called the Compact of Free Association. The federal government has reimbursed Guam each year for providing services to regional immigrants, but far less than the actual cost of those services -- a shortfall of more than $200 million between 1986 and 2003, said Carlos Bordallo, the governor's budget director.

The Guam Telephone Authority's $105 million debt to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for telephone infrastructure has been mentioned as one of the debts that could be erased by Bush in order to reconcile immigrant expenses.

"Compact reconciliation is a fair and equitable way to address the cost the people of Guam have borne alone for far too long," Gov. Felix Camacho said yesterday in a written statement. "There has clearly been disparity between what we have been given and what we have spent to fulfill our nation's Compact agreements."

While Bordallo said the shortfall is greater than $200 million, he declined to give an exact figure and would not provide an agency-by-agency breakdown of those costs. He said the information will be made public after the accounting firm of Slater, Nakamura and Co. has reviewed the figures. Bordallo said he does not want to disrupt the review process or provide potentially inaccurate agency figures.

"Interior wants to make sure that the numbers are justifiable," governor's spokesman John Dela Rosa said.

According to Pacific Daily News files, education, health care and welfare are the top three costs associated with regional immigrants.

The $200 million figure does not take into account any taxes that working immigrants have contributed to government of Guam coffers, Bordallo said. He said the value of tax payments by immigrants could be calculated later, if the Department of Interior believes it is an issue.

Bordallo said a final version of the report should be on the governor's desk by April 1.

After the report is submitted to the Interior Department on April 14, the next step will be to work with Interior officials to arrive at a final figure so a request can be submitted, stating which debts the island would like erased, Dela Rosa said.

The president has until Dec. 31 to notify Congress he intends to act on Guam's request.

March 17, 2004

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

 

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