Senators want more information before they vote on raising taxes

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Guam – Lawmakers continued the debate over raising taxes with the governor’s bill 245 during session today(Tues). At the request of senators, yesterday(Mon.) the governor delivered a fiscal realignment plan in bill form which includes various cost cutting measures.

Session began with a report on an analysis of the governor’s proposed fiscal realignment plan. Senators have been asking the administration for their specific plans to cut costs before they make a decision on the proposed increase in taxes. However, the fiscal recovery plan is not something that needs to be passed as all of the cost cutting measures proposed can be accomplished by the governor without authorization from the legislature.  “This was provided to us today because there was a request by a number of us that an FRP be provided before we can consider 245. And so, it’s now provided to us and the question is what are we going to do?” said Speaker B.J. Cruz.

Vice-Speaker Therese Terlaje asked how much money they need to raise via taxes whether it’s the $17 million-dollar difference after the cuts from the fiscal realignment plan are realized or whether it’s going to be a higher number. Speaker Cruz wanted to focus on bill 245 first in order to provide a temporary fix allowing time for each committee chair to focus on the proposed cuts within their respective agencies of oversight and to provide time for the legislature as a whole to come up with new bills to raise funds through other means whether it be a sales tax or other forms of revenue enhancements. “All of those have to be publicly heard but that’s going to take some time and all we are trying to do right now is to stop the bleeding, stabilize the patient so we can deal with what other operations are absolutely necessary,” said Speaker Cruz.

Senator Frank Aguon Jr. said he did not want to raise taxes because he doesn’t believe the community can take a tax increase at this time. He’s also concerned about the reductions to critical agencies. He asked to see what money is available in special funds that can be transferred to critical areas. Senator Mary Torres said she’s concerned that bill 245 isn’t the cure all because long term solutions like realistic cuts to spending are needed as well.

The Speaker proffered an amendment to raise revenues by 1 percent from March 15th to June 30th just to allow time to figure out what combination of savings and revenue enhancements are needed for a long-term fix. Ultimately the speaker’s amendment failed before the midday break.

Senators went back to the drawing board with discussions of the 2 percent increase to the business privilege tax in the afternoon. Various amendments were added like Senator Espaldon’s amendment to make a GMH stabilization fund that would act as a lock box to ensure that the funds slated for GMH from the increase in taxes go towards specific things like equipment supplies and other necessities. The amendment passed.

However, ultimately lawmakers were not satisfied with the information the administration has provided them. Senator Telena nelson asked to see the actual cash position of the government of Guam including the cash in its various special funds before they make a decision on increasing the BPT. The specials funds are something Senator Aguon has been asking about as well. Speaker Cruz advised the body that this information has not been made available despite requests. So, the legislature decided to recess until 8am tomorrow(Weds.) morning in order to get this information before proceeding any further on the governor’s proposal to raise the BPT by 2 percent.