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Camacho vetoes financing bill to declare state of emergency

By Dionesis Tamondong

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Mar 31, 2009) - The governor yesterday vetoed the landfill-financing bill that lawmakers passed last week and announced he could declare a state of emergency this week to announce furlough plans and procedures.

"I am left with no other choice but to begin the furlough process," Gov. Felix Camacho said in a press conference yesterday.

While specifics of the furlough plan weren't provided, Camacho said his administration is looking at cutting work hours for all government of Guam employees -- from 40 per week to 32 hours per week -- or shutting down GovGuam offices and services every Friday, except for critical services.

He said the drastic steps have become necessary because of another $993,700 payment GovGuam made yesterday from its General Fund for the court-ordered landfill projects. GovGuam has deposited nearly $6 million in the span of three weeks.

If GovGuam fails to make the weekly payments, it would be fined $10,000, with that fine doubling each day up to $250,000 until it's paid.

Unless the local government can satisfy the District Court of Guam with a viable financing plan for the closure of Ordot dump and the construction of a landfill, GovGuam is forced to make the weekly payments through September 2012, though at a lower rate each year. GovGuam remains under a consent decree with the federal court for failing to close the dump years ago.

Late afternoon yesterday, the governor sent another landfill-financing bill -- the fourth in as many months -- to the Legislature and called lawmakers into special session. Senators were already meeting in regular session with 14 bills on their agenda.

Sen. Ben Pangelinan, D-Barrigada, again urged the governor to make use of the authority and flexibility given to him by lawmakers to issue the bonds for the landfill projects.

Senators on Thursday passed the governor's landfill financing bill, which gives him the authority to borrow up to $202,425,000 to finance those projects. The cost of closing Ordot dump and building a landfill in Inarajan is pegged at around $159 million.

Until the governor begins to issue those bonds, Pangelinan said it's the administration that continues to force GovGuam to pay the $1 million per week.

Pangelinan's amendments to the governor's bill required the administration to issue bonds not just for the landfill projects but for overdue tax refunds and Cost-of-Living-Allowance payments.

Debt ceiling

Camacho has said pursuing bond financing for both the landfill and the other obligations with Section 30 revenues would be impossible.

The governor and Guam's attorney general said GovGuam's debt ceiling, or the limit of how much the local government can borrow with its current debts, is $6.7 million.

Pangelinan said GovGuam's debt ceiling is actually about $325 million, since some of the obligations required by law have yet to be issued, including bond financing for a new John F. Kennedy High School.

Camacho yesterday explained that GovGuam's treasury collects about $300,000 each day, most of which pays for operations.

"But we're taking $200,000 every day to satisfy the court order. The only thing we're able to pay for at this point is payroll," the governor said. "To be specific, every vendor and every business and everyone who does business for GovGuam is being owed right now."

Majority Leader Sen. Rory Respicio, D-Agana Heights, said the Legislature has made "valid attempts" to comply with the judge's court order.

He said he will ask Guam's attorney general to file a motion asking the federal judge to vacate her order, and present to the federal court other ways GovGuam has been seeking funding for the landfill projects.

"This is the only way to get us out of these very damaging payments of $1 million a week," Respicio said.

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