Senators vote to keep raising taxes on fuel

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Sens. Tom Ada (D) and Mary Torres (D) prepare to vote on four bills this morning, including a measure to roll back October's four-cents-per-gallon liquid fuel tax increase. Ada voted against the rollback, Torres voted for it.

The ayes have it. Gas taxes will keep rising till they hit 15 cents per gallon, in accordance with local law.

Guam – Getting off to an early start, senators approved three bills but dismissed Sen. Frank Aguon’s liquid fuel tax repeal this morning, ending this week’s session with a bang. The fuel tax rollback initiative won’t cross the governor’s desk. But the other bills will. If the 34th gets its way, Customs gets land, the Waste Authority gets rules, and ailing students get faster medicine. But the ascending fuel tax keeps rising.

Getting back to business after Thursday’s storm delay, lawmakers gathered at 10:00 a.m. to shoot straight through the voting file. Three bills passed with overwhelming support, two unanimously, one with a vote of 14-1.

Democratic Sen. Tom Ada’s Bill 216-34 seeks to grant a four-acre land plot to the Guam Customs and Quarantine Agency, so it has a place to build a satellite inspection and sterile holding facility to fight invasive species entering the commercial port in Piti. It passed, 15-0.

Bill 224-34, Republican Sen. Mary Torres’ Student Services Act to train and authorize more public school employees to administer timely medicines to ailing students also passed, 15-0.

Bill 273-34 is Democratic Sen. Telena Nelson’s measure to adopt rules and regulations for the Guam Solid Waste Authority’s management and operations in the handoff from federal receiver back to GovGuam. This is in strict accordance with a District Court order, and it passed, 14-1, with only Sen. Michael San Nicolas (D) voting nay.

On Monday lawmakers approved Bill 262-34, San Nicolas’ sales tax repeal bill, with a veto-proof 11-4 vote setting a preemptive strike against the two percent tax on the sale of goods and services before it takes effect October 1.

Sales tax beneficiary Guam Memorial Hospital Authority and Adelup were quick to respond earlier this week. The news media fielded desperate cries for help from hospital administrators and threats of GovGuam furloughs from the Office of the Governor.

The only bill that didn’t make it out of the voting file this morning was Bill 270-34, the fuel tax rollback measure authored by Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Aguon. The legislation was narrowly defeated, 8-7. Aguon immediately issued a press statement.

“With the administration and some within this legislative body remaining dead-set on raising taxes and using scare tactics to force the people into believing they need to pay more for everything, it’s disappointing to see the disconnect between elected officials and the everyday struggles of our people,” Aguon wrote.

“Families are struggling every day to make ends meet and rest assured…I will continue to fight to repeal the liquid fuel tax and any other tax increases this government decides to shove down the throats of our people.”

Adelup soon shot back. “Sen. Frank Aguon Jr.’s bill to end the road projects has failed. The liquid fuel tax increase became law in October, which increased the LFT by four cents. The increase is meant to fund village road repairs,” Governor Eddie Calvo’s office wrote.

That may be, but the seven senators who voted in favor of rolling back the four-cents-per-gallon seem to agree that the gap between “meant for road repairs” and actually ‘going’ to road repairs raises ponderable questions, especially in light of complaints that highway earmarks have been among special lockbox funds that the administration has made a habit of raiding for other government expenditures.

Here’s how senators voted on Aguon’s rollback measure this morning:

34th Guam Legislature, 2018 (SECOND) Regular Session

                Legislative Session Voting Record

     Bill No. 270-34 (COR) – Liquid Fuel Tax Repeal

NAME AYE NAY
Sen. Thomas C. Ada (D)   x
Sen. Frank B. Aguon (D) x  
Sen. William M. Castro (R)   x
Spkr Benjamin J.F. Cruz   x
Sen. James V. Espaldon (R)   x
Sen. Fernando Barcinas Esteves (R)   x
Sen. Regine Biscoe Lee x  
Sen. Tommy Morrison (R)   x
Sen. Louise B. Muna (R)   x
Sen. Telena Cruz Nelson x  
Sen. Dennis G. Rodriguez, Jr. x  
Sen. Joe S. San Agustin x  
Sen. Michael F.Q. San Nicolas x  
Vice Speaker Therese M. Terlaje   x
Sen. Mary Camacho Torres (R) x  

 TOTAL:                                                   AYE: 7                   NAY 8

In October of 2017, an 11-cents-per-gallon fuel tax was already in place when it was raised, by law, another four cents to 15 cents per gallon of gasoline, for implementation over a three-year period. Aguon’s bill sought to roll back the public law’s fuel tax hike on diesel and aviation fuels, as well.

October 2017 Fuel Tax Hike:

Gasoline: 11 cents > 15 cents per gallon

Diesel: 10 cents > 14 cents per gallon

Aviation: 4 cents > 8 cents per gallon

Sen. Aguon has also introduced Bill No. 308-34 to require an advisory referendum on tax hike proposals, one that would give senators two whole months to consider the will of the people prior to voting on a tax increase. Today Aguon thanked his colleagues who “place people before politics.”