By Josh Tyquiengco
Concerns were raised over the current version of the budget bill for the operations of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches during a public hearing today.
Several agencies packed the Guam Congress Building for the public hearing of Bill 186 or the General Appropriations Act of 2020.
Early on in the hearing, lawmakers heard from the Guam Judiciary, the Guahan Academy of Charter School, and the Departmemt of Public Health and Social Services.
DPHSS Director Linda DeNorcey does not support Bill 186-35. She said Public Health’s budget was reduced from just over $60 million to just over $52 million, a decline of just about $8 million.
DeNorcey said the bulk of the budget cut was on Medicaid payments. She expressed concern that the over $9 million cut is needed for the local match of $18.3 million in Medicaid federal funding.
Additionally, DeNorcey said it would be impossible to implement the medicinal marijuana program.
“Furthermore, Bill 186-35 eliminated $750,000 for the medicinal marijuana program, which is needed in order for the Cannabis Regulation Commission to move forward in hiring staff to implement this program such as procuring seeds, software, office equipment, supplies, and contracting services for safety training sessions for the medicinal marijuana program.
Bureau of Budget and Management Research Director Lester Carlson Jr. also provided testimony, stating that a key component of the governor’s executive budget request and Bill 186 is keeping the existing business privilege tax rate at 5 percent.
“BBMR cannot stress enough how strongly we feel that the retention of the 5 percent rate is critical to our economy and our ability to continue to provide the governmental services our people depend upon every day,” Carlson said.
However, Carlson pointed out that Bill 186, in its current form, does not adequately fund health, safety, and education needs when compared to the executive budget request. Carlson also supported Public Health’s position.
Sen. Joe San Agustin, the appropriations chairman, concluded the hearing saying BBMR and the Office of Finance and Budget have been working closely together on recommended changes to the FY 2020 budget bill.