GUAM GOVERNMENT BACKPEDALS ON MILITARY BUILDUP

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By Steve Limtiaco

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Dec. 26) – Two summers ago, Gov. Felix Camacho told a federal committee that Guam wants to host additional military, and that Guam's government was doing many things to accommodate civilian and military growth, including water and power projects and the opening of a new landfill.

"These are just some of the critical projects that the local government has undertaken for the benefit of every many, woman and child living on Guam today," Camacho told the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission during a July 14, 2005, hearing at a school in Los Angeles. Guam at the time was spared significant cuts during a base realignment process -- only 31 jobs here were affected -- and Camacho was advocating greater military activity on Guam.

"And for those who will be living here in the future, we are and will continue to commence initiatives that make Guam the best possible platform for hosting military missions," he said.

The military has announced plans to come here in record numbers, with as much as $15 billion in construction spending -- and Guam's message to federal officials has shifted, with more emphasis in recent months on "unfunded federal mandates" and the adverse effect the military expansion could have on local government services and infrastructure.

Guam can't handle such a large expansion without assistance, said Alberto "Tony" Lamorena, the governor's planning director. That means direct funding or assistance in getting funding, he said.

When asked how much military expansion Guam was prepared to handle unassisted, Lamorena said no one has examined that issue.

Projects that were on the local government's to-do list for years have been relabeled as critical to the military buildup in recent presentations to federal officials.

Among the proposals is that the military "partner" in the investment for a new landfill -- a landfill that GovGuam was supposed to open months ago by federal court order, but which is years away from completion.

"We cannot be expected to cover unfunded federal mandates or other substantial requirements of this military expansion," Camacho told a cabinet-level working group during a trip to the nation's capital in late November. "We have seen the effects of such mandates in other federal programs and if these are not addressed it will hinder our ability to deliver critical services."

It is unclear what the federal mandates will be for Guam and whether they will be funded or unfunded. Much of GovGuam's planning to date has been based on assumptions about the military impact that may or may not pan out, Lamorena said. The military's plans should be clearer by March, he said.

Still to be determined is whether the military will provide its own utilities or buy power and water from the island's existing utilities.

And the ability of Guam to tax the military construction projects could determine how much revenue it will have to prepare for the arrival of the first Marines. Lamorena said there are concerns that large military contractors won't pay taxes here, just as they haven't been paying taxes on Guam for other projects. "The only one paying taxes is the local company subcontracted by the primary contractor," he said.

Lamorena said GovGuam currently is planning for the most military impact -- additional strains on infrastructure and government services without the funding to pay for it -- but those plans will be adjusted as the military's plans for Guam are clarified next year.

A task force created by the governor has used existing information about the expansion to determine the impact on local government services, and in November produced a "needs assessment" that proposes additional government hiring and the purchase of more vehicles, computers, buildings and equipment.

But the needs assessment is not entirely accurate and needs to be refined during the next couple of months, according to Lamorena.

He said the goal of the needs assessment was to identify the funding gap between what Guam needs due to normal population growth, about 2 percent per year, and the sudden 30-percent growth due to the military expansion.

The Guam Police Department, however, reported that it needs to more than double its existing staff, and add new buildings and nearly 200 vehicles in order to handle the military buildup.

The department, which employs 384 people, reported that it would need 421 additional employees, at a cost of $21 million. It also identified more than $44 million for new buildings.

Lamorena said the reports in the needs assessment were rushed and agencies were only supposed to identify what will be needed because of the military buildup -- not existing shortfalls in government services.

The types of problems Guam will face are good problems to have because they are problems associated with economic growth, as opposed to economic depression, said retired Marine Maj. Gen. David Bice, who is in charge of the Joint Guam Program Office, which is coordinating the military expansion. "This is a problem of opportunity."

Gov. Camacho said, "The military increase will certainly change the balance and provide a more stable economy because of the presence here. But I've always made that case that, as a territory, we do not have the financial capacity to pay for this."

The governor is not alone in this position.

"I am absolutely advocating that the U.S. government assist in improving Guam's infrastructure beyond the gates of the military bases," Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo told the Pacific Daily News earlier this month. "I hope the Bush administration includes funding for these infrastructure improvements in their own budget request for fiscal 2009 and beyond."

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