Terlaje demands answers on cash crunch

L-R: Sen. Therese Terlaje (D), Acting Speaker of the 34th Guam Legislature; Governor of Guam Eddie Calvo; and Sen. Tom Ada (D), Chairman of the Committee on Appropriations and Adjudication.

Guam – In the closing days of the 34th Guam Legislature at the tail end of the two-term Calvo Administration, Acting Speaker Therese Terlaje (D) is calling for fiscal accountability in the face of mixed messages from the Governor’s Office.

As PNC reported six days ago, no sooner had Gov. Calvo claimed a slight FY18 surplus than he was suddenly transferring $5.3 million from a total of 11 departments and agencies, just to pay insurance premiums at the Government of Guam Retirement Fund.

Almost three months into the fiscal year, Acting Speaker Terlaje feels a fiscal snapshot is justified, even given the Dept. of Administration’s ever-pressing need to move cash around in order to meet immediate payment obligations.

“That’s very possible,” Terlaje told PNC. “Yes, there are some good months, there are not some. But…based on that kind of knowledge…I think that they could have compared what they estimated for November and December and October and just let us know where we are.”

On Thursday Terlaje asked for answers on how the Calvo Administration is managing the island government’s FY19 spending plan—the best billion-dollar compromise budget the current legislature could muster for executive signature in the aftermath of the Trump Tax Cuts.

Terlaje’s question boils down to whether GovGuam really needs a new property tax assessment in order to pay for education costs.

The Legislature is now entertaining Bill 374-34 (COR), an amendment that would correct a revenue-sensitive typo in the FY19 budget act. This is so a higher tax on all buildings worth a million dollars or more can bring in the $8 million ostensibly needed for school maintenance this fiscal year and for successive years thereafter.

So Terlaje pressed Appropriations Chairman Tom Ada (D) to bring his budget office staff into legislative chambers to answer to the Committee of the Whole, but her motion failed.

“If you are opposed to this bill because you are opposed to any kind of tax increase from the beginning, we can go into a Committee of the Whole all day long, but it’s not gonna change [your]position,” Ada said. “Let’s go down the voting file and put your position on record.”

Ada said the $8 million is absolutely needed, anyway.

“So the bill is down in the voting file, and we will know I guess when we come in to vote tomorrow [Friday]…what the positions of the senators are, whether they are willing to gamble with an $8 million shortfall in the Territorial Education Facilities Fund.”

But following the Calvo Administration’s November shuffling to pay retiree health premiums, plus recent revelations that not all GovGuam agencies can settle their FY18 debts due to lack of adequate funding, plus Calvo’s claim of an FY18 surplus, Acting Speaker Terlaje is insinuating that Governor Calvo’s story doesn’t add up sufficiently to merit overlooking.

As the 34th rushes to pass final legislation in the waning days of an expiring term and in the last three weeks of the Calvo Administration, Terlaje is still pressing to tie up loose ends, so there’s a little less to untangle come January, for a fresh start at the advent of a newly elected government.

“You know, we’re transitioning for the legislature, so I feel like if I’ve been here and I still feel like I need some information, and I’m sure that the new senators could really use this information to get them up to speed as to where we really are on this budget – whether we need to do something drastic or are we on course?” Terlaje said.

Session resumes at 4:00 p.m. Friday, when senators are set to begin voting on all bills discussed this week.