GUAM HAS FEW BARGAINING CHIPS IN U.S. DEBT REQUEST

Editorial

Pacific Daily News

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Feb 15) - Later this month, Governor Felix Camacho will meet with the Interagency Group on Insular Areas in Washington, D.C., and he wants to use the opportunity to ask the Bush administration to write off some of Guam's federal debt.

In 2004, GovGuam asked for as much as US$200.7 million in federal debt relief - to compensate for what the U.S. government owed Guam for compact-impact costs - only to have the request rejected. This time around, Camacho will ask the White House to forgive about US$60.5 million of the debt Guam owes the federal government.

But how can Camacho think the Bush administration will be amenable to giving us tens of millions of dollars in debt relief when Camacho has yet to take a stand on the issue of federal Tiyan land that was meant for highway use?

The Federal Highway Administration wrote to Guam's government, saying the transfer of former federal land back to original landowner families was illegal because the land was meant for the construction of a highway. If it's not used for that express purpose, the feds say, then the land must be returned.

Camacho has said he wants to find a win-win situation that will placate both current landowners and the federal government, and that's why he has yet to take a strong stand on the issue. But Speaker Mark Forbes, who wrote the law allowing for the transfer to original landowner families, has said that if the land is taken back, either the federal or local government must compensate landowners with fair market value.

What makes the governor think he can go to the federal government with one hand out for debt relief, while the other hand is slapping Uncle Sam over federal land issues? GovGuam can't have it both ways - it can't shrug off federal concerns over the propriety of land transfers and still expect help with writing off debt. Even worse, given Forbes' position, would the federal government view the governor's proposed debt relief request as a way to get federal funds to compensate Tiyan landowners?

To complicate things further, where is the government plan for resolving its financial problems? Perhaps if GovGuam actually had a proposed course of comprehensive action that spelled out its plans for addressing the island's gigantic deficit, coupled with a comprehensive plan to fix the infrastructure problems that doesn't rely on a possible bond, the feds might be more willing and able to assist us with it.

February 16, 2006

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

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