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By Gerardo R. Partido

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, June 27) - The Guam Visitors Bureau is drafting a position paper opposing the bill to increase the minimum wage here.

During its last meeting, the agency’s board of directors agreed to let Visitors Bureau general manager Gerald Perez explain the bureau’s position opposing the minimum wage.

Last week, the Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association and other business groups already testified against the bill, arguing that the tourism industry is still not on solid footing despite the recent increases in the number of visitor arrivals.

According to the Visitors Bureau an increase in the minimum wage may also dissuade much-needed investors from putting money into the island’s tourism industry because competing destinations offer much lower wages.

The Guam Chamber of Commerce, in written testimony sent to the Legislature, pointed out that the tourism industry is still very fragile and that even if visitor arrivals increase by 6 percent this year, hotels will still only be operating at occupancy levels of 65 percent across the board.

"Room rates are still well below US$110, which used to be closer to US$130 island wide a number of years ago. This is insufficient to finance badly needed renovations and upgrades of existing hotels. In addition, average expenditure on island by our visitors has severely declined which impacts restaurants, concessionaire incomes, and other hotel revenues," Chamber official Monty McDowell said.

If the government really wants to help the working people, the Chamber is of the opinion that GovGuam would do better to pay the earned income tax credit owed to low-income people.

"This precisely rewards those who are of lower income without impacting the entire workforce," McDowell said.

As of press time, senators during Monday’s legislative session had still not voted on Bill 148, the minimum wage legislation sponsored by Senator Benjamin Cruz, D-Piti.

"When we get back we will vote on the Respicio amendment," Cruz told Variety.

The amendment offered by Senator Rory Respicio, D-Agana Heights, would further increase Guam’s minimum wage to US$5.85 an hour.

"If that does happen we will go back to the original bill as I introduced it. I’m hoping that the senators will support this because I just can’t see how anybody can be begrudged a 60-cent increase. That comes up to about only $10 a month and that won’t even pay for gas," Cruz said.

He added that his colleagues in the Legislature should realize how little income many people on the island actually make.

June 28, 2006

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