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Eleventh-hour vote avoids government shutdown

By Therese Hart HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Marianas Variety, Sept. 8, 2011) – During a special session last night, the Legislature voted to substitute Governor Eddie Baza Calvo’s budget bill with another which does not include any bond borrowing, in order to avoid a government shutdown by Oct. 1.

The motion made by Democratic Senator Rory Respicio was objected to by Republican senators who spoke against the motion. They argued that the governor’s bill should be given proper discussion and debate, but Respicio said the substituted bill is still the governor’s bill – it just didn’t include the bond-borrowing proposal and the lockbox provision.

When the call for the vote came, the eight Democrats voted in favor and the six Republicans voted against the motion.

The motion passed.

"I’m hopeful that the governor will sign it to avoid a government shutdown," said Respicio.

But the opportunity to go to the bond market is still alive. Yesterday, Sen. Ben Pangelinan introduced Bill 305 which has a bond-borrowing component.

Respicio clarified that the substituted bill was not a new bill.

"A new bill was not introduced, but a substituted bill into the governor’s bill to what he called us into special session for in order to preserve the requirements of the Organic Act that says the governor shall convene the Legislature and the Legislature shall address that subject matter," said the lawmaker.

Sen. Respicio added there are some arguments as to whether last night’s actions were legal. "But be that as it may, to move us to some common ground, what the Democrats felt was important was to remove those areas where there is no agreement between the senators and the governor, and with everyone’s concern on whether or not we’re going to have a government shutdown, come Oct. 1, the Democrats moved to just provide an operating budget for the government of Guam."

Regarding the bond provision, Respicio said the governor was invited publicly while in session, to reintroduce and transmit a bill regarding the bond-borrowing provision, but he didn’t.

Respicio said in the next few days, the Legislature has the opportunity to reconcile differences, since "not all senators are in agreement of how much to borrow. But everyone, including the governor, agrees how these proceeds should be dispersed – to pay tax refunds and COLA recipients."

In reaction, the governor said the substituted bill does not resolve the concerns of tax refunds or Cost Of Living Allowance payments "in any sort of practical way."

"We feel we've made a good faith effort to discuss the concerns of the Legislature, and we have been hoping for the same consideration. I will say that this latest substitution does not appear to reflect such an attitude. I remain hopeful that more reasonable proposals will come during the ensuing discussion. All this administration has ever wanted to do is pay the people their tax refunds, and now, for our manamko’, their COLA. I just can't understand why there is so much politics keeping this from happening. These are our people, the people we swore to serve, the people we swore to help."

But Pangelinan took personal exception to some Republican senators, among them Sen. Chris Duenas, who said not addressing the governor’s bill was a "cop out."

In eloquent Chamorro, Pangelinan spoke of his past and present actions to push the governor to pay out tax refunds.

"We have new senators in this Legislature, no one is going to dispute that. But what I’m going to dispute is the fact that these senators are now telling someone like me that I don’t support the payment of tax refunds, when everything I did over the years speaks to how I want tax refunds to be paid. But for these new senators to say that about me, they’re just children. They are so young, that their teeth haven’t come out yet."

The Legislature adjourned Gov. Calvo’s special session last evening. Regular session will continue today at 9 a.m.

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