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By Steve Limtiaco

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Feb. 22) - Guam residents are better off now than they were three years ago, Governor Felix Camacho said yesterday morning during his annual State of the Island Address.

There are more jobs, the public schools have improved, tourism arrivals are on the rise, and the military, which is expanding its presence here, "is now set to bring about the greatest economic boom our island has yet seen," the governor said.

The governor's 30-minute speech at the Guam Legislature was mostly a summary of improvements during the past three years of his administration – improvements the Governor credited to the people of Guam working together.

Camacho proposed no new initiatives or goals, except for continuing to set things right and moving forward with progress.

A Democratic senator described the speech as lacking in details, while Senator Mike Cruz, a doctor who's the governor's running mate, wanted to hear more about specific health-care issues.

Cruz, the senator with legislative oversight on health, felt that there should have been mention of the medical liability issue. Local doctors have long pushed for caps on the amount of money physicians can lose in a malpractice suit, saying the lack of affordable malpractice insurance here has contributed to a shortage of medical specialists.

While Guam Memorial Hospital has been stabilized, Cruz said, the other issues we could have touched on include the recruitment of specialists and medical liability reform.

"On my part, as far as being a legislator, that's something that we're still committed to doing so that we can bring the needed specialists to Guam that our people need. It's an issue we are struggling with, and debating with, even amongst ourselves here in the Legislature, but hopefully in a very short order, we should have at least a draft of a bill to start the discussion on liability reform," said Cruz.

The governor, who is leaving island today for the nation's capital, hopes to meet with U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta to discuss federal concerns over the return of excess federal land at Tiyan to its original owners.

Federal highway officials maintain that the land was returned to the local government only to be used as a highway, and it must be turned over to the federal government if it is not used for that purpose.

Camacho yesterday said he will defend the rights of landowners and the local government's actions.

Federal officials fail to recognize the suffering and sacrifice of Guam's people, Camacho said, and he intends to remind them of that.

"Tiyan land is significant, both economically and culturally," the Governor said. "How can they take back what was never truly theirs?"

"I thought the governor's speech was very good, very positive. He gave a lot of hope to the people of Guam for the future," said Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo. "He mentioned the tourism and the military buildup would certainly strengthen our economy. He did touch on the Tiyan land issue, which is up front right now."

Lawmakers gave the governor's speech mixed reviews.

"It was probably the best State of the Island Address I've heard him give," said Speaker Mark Forbes. "I liked the fact it was very inclusive. It spoke about accomplishments of everyone. It was a unifying speech that underscores something that's very near and dear to my heart, which is the simple notion that in order for us to move forward and continue to move forward it's necessary for all government leaders, all community leaders ... to work together cooperatively. And that's something I heard him say very strongly."

Forbes, who wrote the law that allowed Tiyan land to be transferred to its original owners, said he also was pleased by the governor's strong statement about the rights of landowners."

Legislative minority leader Senator Judith Won Pat, D-Inarajan, said she agrees with the governor's position that Tiyan land should be returned to its original owners, but described the rest of his speech as full of "political clichés" with few details.

"We're gonna end strong; we're gonna finish strong; we've done it; we're gonna do it and things of that nature," Won Pat said.

She compared Camacho's speech to the administration's government reorganization plan, saying the administration wants people to buy into it without a lot of the details they need.

"It's basically all surface," she said.

Camacho during his address restated his goal of borrowing bond money to pay tax refunds, earned income tax credits, retirement contributions and government utility bills that the past administration ignored.

"We can no longer put off the only viable solution," Camacho said, noting that the government is "paralyzed" on the borrowing issue because of court challenges to the borrowing. Attorney General Douglas Moylan has fought the bond proposal in local and federal court, saying it appears to bust the legal debt limit in the island's Organic Act.

The case currently is with the federal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"We have borrowed from the people of Guam for too long, and it's time to pay you back," Camacho said.

Borrowing money on the bond market would help the government clear up those debts almost immediately, but the long-term cost to taxpayers would be between $23.6 million and US$36.8 million per year for 30 years, according to figures presented by the administration recently.

Pacific Daily News reporter Mark-Alexander Pieper contributed to this report.

February 23, 2006

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