GEC seeks staff raises in season of austerity

L-R: Guam Election Commission Executive Director Maria Pangelinan and Program Coordinator Tom San Agustin

Sure, they deserve it, but can we afford it? That’s the lingering question this weekend as Guam Election Commission Executive Director Maria Pangelinan asks lawmakers to appropriate another hundred grand for staff raises after a rigorous election season tested employee mettle. 

Guam – In the grand scheme of billion-dollar budgets, $98,000-plus in staff raises is just a drop in the ocean of cash needed to run the government of Guam annually.

So maybe that’s why there was no Spanish Inquisition on Thursday when hardworking Guam Election Commission Executive Director Maria Pangelinan sent GEC Program Coordinator Tom San Agustin to the Guam Congress Building’s public hearing room to read aloud her appeal for more commission team pay.

“The Guam Election Commission comes before you to…respectfully request funding for re-appointments of GEC staff in an effort to protect the institutional, collective knowledge and experience gained from the conduct of elections since 2004,” San Agustin read.

“Senator Esteves, did you have any questions? Senator Lee? I don’t have any questions,” Appropriations Chairman Tom Ada (D) observed. He and colleagues Fernando Esteves  (R) and Regine Biscoe Lee (D) having nothing to inquire about GEC’s relatively paltry request, the sparsely attended public hearing drew to a quick and un-resounding close.

The pay adjustment request is just one third of the nearly $300,000 dollars GEC is requesting, not only to reward employees for their service but to cover the high cost of a momentous gubernatorial election season that spanned two fiscal years. Ada has neatly encapsulated the request in Bill 381-34 (COR), now before the committee.

“The Guam Election Commission respectfully requests your positive consideration of GEC’s Supplemental Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2019, unanimously approved at a public meeting of the Commission on November 15, 2018, for $298,536.00,” Pangelinan’s letter reads.

Is that all? As recently as this past summer, the 34th Legislature was beside itself over how on earth to pass a plausible FY19 budget when revenues had been decimated by the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Seeing few other options than the unthinkable—pay cuts, job elimination, or government consolidation—lawmakers raised local taxes on gas, business privileges, and property, instead. And the budget remained in the neighborhood of a billion dollars, anyway, with revenue sources limited by the absence of an immediate plan to grow the economy.

During the last week of November, Gov. Calvo transferred $5.3 million from multiple departments and agencies just so he could have enough money to pay medical insurance premiums to the Government of Guam Retirement Fund, after recently declaring a government surplus.

In his Nov. 15 “Black Friday paid holiday” proclamation, which wound up costing taxpayers a million dollars in un-worked hours, Calvo wrote, “At this point, we are on track for a slight surplus for Fiscal Year 2018.”

So, for now, scarcely affordable patronage may continue to win the day until a new gubernatorial administration can find a way to grow the economy to the point elected officials are no longer scrambling to pad pay and boast of surpluses while fidgeting in the dark for a bottle of black ink.

In her request letter to the Legislature, GEC Executive Director Maria Pangelinan apologized for not attending Thursday’s hearing. She has been off island attending a Council of State Governments meeting in Kentucky.