Guam Lawmakers Seek Separate Budget Request For DOE

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Governor’s current proposal lumps DOE with other agencies

By Jerick Sablan

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Feb. 5, 2014) – As the budget process begins, Guam’s Legislature is hoping for more transparency from the administration.

The Legislature passed Bill 257 on Monday, which would require the governor to submit a separate budget request for the Guam Department of Education (DOE).

Senators said the governor needs to take a position on education funding, which they said has become a "political football."

As it stands, the governor's $863 million budget proposal sets aside $347 million to fund the public schools, the courts, the university, the Legislature and several other agencies, without stating a specific budget amount for any of those agencies.

Those combined agencies this fiscal year have budgets totaling only $321 million, which means the governor wants to give them $26 million more next fiscal year.

The governor's budget proposal states government revenues are expected to increase by about $59 million next fiscal year.

Guam law currently does not require the governor to submit a proposed budget for the public schools, which are asking for $300 million next fiscal year.

On Friday night, the governor submitted a budget proposal that reflects a projected revenue of $863 million.

About $776.2 million of that is what the administration expects to collect in the General Fund, which includes money from individual and corporate income taxes, federal funds, fees and other revenue sources.

Prioritizing education

The bill passed by lawmakers states that it is "paramount" for the public and the Legislature to ascertain the governor's intent to prioritize the education agencies of the government of Guam.

Sen. Ben Pangelinan, D-Barrigada, who wrote the bill, said leaving a lump sum for the Legislature to split between the education agencies doesn't show what the administration's priorities are when it comes to education.

"This would, in future annual budget proposals for GovGuam, show what allocations there will be for DOE," Pangelinan said.

Rory Respicio, D-Agana Heights, said the education department's budget often becomes a "political football" and he supports the bill.

Respicio said he's concerned that the governor's fiscal 2015 budget and its projected revenue increase may not be accurate.

He said the Legislature will need to look at the numbers because they're significantly more than this year's revenue projections.

Respicio made an amendment to the bill to have the administration submit a revised revenue estimate by July to help the Legislature prepare the budget.

"We just want to deal with the facts," Respicio said.

The governor would need to submit the revised revenue estimates by July 15.

[PIR editor's note: Meanwhile, Pacific Daily News reports that Guam's DOE might begin charging for night school and summer school programs, which are currently funded by the federal government. However, the DOE is required to provide local funding to supplement the two programs, and DOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez has proposed a $50 per half-credit charge to provide such local funding.]

Tax credits

The bill also would require the governor to identify tax credits in the budget.

The bill states that the authorization and awarding of tax credits diminishes the ability to accurately estimate revenues for the fiscal year, which also hampers the ability to prioritize funding for DOE and other agencies.

The Office of Public Accountability recently launched an audit into tax credits granted to Core Tech International and the construction contractor's recent deal for the purchase of Tiyan property that could cost the government of Guam $160 million.

There hasn't been a comprehensive look at the amount of all tax credits GovGuam has granted over the years, and to what extent those tax credits have affected the local government's cash flow, Pacific Daily News files state.

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