Guam Legislature To Vote Again To Repeal Pay Raises

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Last effort to roll back increases failed in November

By Shawn Raymundo

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Jan. 29, 2016) – Lawmakers Thursday approved a resolution to reconsider legislation that would’ve repealed controversial retroactive pay raises Guam’s appointed and elected leaders received in November 2014.

Island senators in November voted down Bill 204-33, which would’ve reversed a law authorizing the raises. The legislation failed in an 8-7 vote.

If it had passed, there would’ve been a reduction in the salaries of the attorney general, governor, lieutenant governor, senators, Cabinet appointees as well as mayors and vice mayors.

Sen. Rory Respicio, who chairs the Legislature’s Committee on Rules, said the resolution passed Thursday in committee, receiving approval from six of the 11 committee members.

"What I’m tying to do is facilitate the process that satisfies the will of the body," said Respicio, who voted against Bill 204 in November.

During an oversight hearing at the Legislature this week, the Calvo administration’s finance officials confirmed the government of Guam is in a "cash crunch," which has shortchanged the government’s account to collect money to pay tax refunds.

"I’m in favor of every opportunity to discuss the issue. During the oversight hearing, it was revealed that we’re in a cash crunch," Respicio noted. "It makes it right for the senators to revote on Bill 204, and I want that opportunity for myself."

The resolution calls on Speaker Judith Won Pat to call a special session so lawmakers can vote on the measure again. When Pacific Daily News reached out to the speaker’s office Thursday, PDN was told to check back Friday morning for her plans on the session.

Sen. Mike San Nicolas, D-Tamuning, has been the Legislature’s staunchest opponent to the pay raises, having introduced Bill 204 and a separate, yet similar, measure earlier last year. He said he was surprised the issue had been reignited.

"To be very upfront, the first thing that popped up in my head was the Lord works in mysterious ways," he said, adding: "I was surprised, but I very much welcome everyone’s support to pass this bill or to reconsider the vote in this matter."

During the public hearing over Bill 204 in November, public officials and agency directors filled the Legislature’s public hearing room to defend the raises. Gov. Calvo also made a surprise visit to testify before lawmakers in favor of Public Law 208.

The governor has justified the raises by noting the government is in a much better financial situation than it was at the start of his first term.

According to officials from the Bureau of Budget and Management Research, Department of Administration and Department of Revenue and Taxation, the government currently owes $25.2 million in late vendor payments. About $3.6 million in late vendor payments represent outstanding debt of 90 days or more.

The reason for the cash crunch, the officials said, was because of recent lump sum payments the government had to pay, such as $13 million in cost-of-living allowances to retirees.

The government’s current setback in funds also is highlighted by the balance of an account that collects about a quarter of monthly income tax revenues so the government can pay tax refunds.

The account had only $235 at the end of December. That month, the government collected nearly $47.7 million in income taxes, requiring a deposit of $12.2 million.

However, the cash balance report shows only $2.3 million was deposited into the account last month.

Officials at the governor’s office couldn’t be reached for comment as of press time.

Previous repeal attempts

Bill 204 was San Nicolas’s second attempt in the past year to repeal Public Law 208 – the statute authorizing the raises for the attorney general, governor, lieutenant governor, senators and Cabinet members.

Under the law, senators’ pay increased from roughly $61,000 to $85,000 while Gov. Eddie Calvo saw a nearly 45 percent pay increase from $90,000 to $130,000. Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio’s annual income climbed to $110,000 from $85,000.

Bill 204 not only would’ve repealed 208, it would have rescinded raises mayors and vice mayors received in early 2014 as well as reduce senators’ salaries to about $55,000 – the annual income of lawmakers prior to a separate pay raise at the start of fiscal year 2013.

However, in a divisive 8-7 decision, the bill failed. Speaker Won Pat, Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz, Sens. Tom Ada, Frank Aguon Jr., Mary Torres, Nerissa Underwood and San Nicolas backed it.

Senators also tried to repeal the raises with Bill 4-33. When the legislative body deliberated that measure last February, the majority of senators voted in favor of an amendment to gut a provision of rolling back salaries.

Vice Speaker Cruz and Sens. Tom Ada, Aguon, San Nicolas and Underwood voted against the amendment, while Sen. Brant McCreadie was absent from session that day.

Although Bill 4 passed and was later enacted, it only ensures that lawmakers can’t waive a public hearing requirement prior to debating salary-adjustment legislation and salary changes can’t occur until a General Election has passed.

San Nicolas previously noted Bill 204 received added support from Speaker Won Pat and Sen. Torres who both voted in favor of the amendment to gut Bill 4 earlier in the year.

When asked if he felt this week’s attempt to reconsider the vote meant the bill has drawn more supporters, San Nicolas said it’s likely those who voted in favor of the reconsideration would vote for the measure.

"I don’t want to speak for all the other senators, but I will say that if they’re supporting the resolution to reconsider, then it’s likely they’ll support the actual action in rescinding (the raises)," he said.

The resolution comes on the heels of a bill that would allow lawmakers to voluntarily reduce their pay. Sen. Underwood introduced the legislation.

"I really welcome this, I signed off on this (resolution)," she said. "In reality it would be much better for us to be able to pass a bill that has a collective effort because it would yield more savings and be a shared sacrifice of all our leaders."

Underwood said she introduced her bill because she believed the legislative body had exhausted all of its options this term to repeal the raises.

Klitzkie’s questions to senators

Former Sen. Robert Klitzkie, who has made no attempt to mask his disdain for the retroactive pay raises, spoke Thursday to the Rotary of Guam about selecting the right candidate in Guam’s upcoming mid-term elections this November.

Since Lt. Gov. Tenorio enacted Public Law 208 on Nov. 21, 2014, Klitzkie has been a vocal adversary of the raises. He explained to the club his five questions he’d ask every candidate running for a senatorial seat at the Legislature.

His first question: "Will you use your best efforts to roll back to pre-Nov. 21, 2014 levels?"

"If the answer to that question is ‘no,’ then skip the rest of the four questions," Klitzkie said. "Because that kind of tells you everything you need to know about that particular candidate. It tells you that he is a person interested in public employment and not public service."

The other four questions he plans to ask: "Term limits: What is your self-imposed term limit? Do you favor term limits for all senators? Do you favor a citizens legislature? What are the three legislative functions that are most important?"

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