So who won the battle?
The bill is not exactly the governor’s submitted bond borrowing bill, but it does provide for the $343 million figure the administration wanted.
That is definitely a big concession from the $180 million bond borrowing that constituted the Democrats’ original compromise offer. During the heat of the budget battle, the Democrats even managed to strike out the entire bond borrowing provision from the budget bill.
So what happened? Why the sudden turnaround?
Some say the Democrats caved in to the pressure exerted by the administration. Gov. Eddie Baza Calvo isn’t up for re-election until 2014. The senators, however, are up for re-election next year and nobody wants to be branded as the one who refused to pay out tax refunds to the people.
During one special session on the bond bill, the administration even managed to fill the Legislature’s session hall with its supporters, pressuring the senators to pass Adelup’s bill. In a direct jab at the Democrats, one of the posters pasted in the Legislature stated: “Ricky would have paid our refunds,” referring to Democratic icon Ricky Bordallo, who was one of the island’s most popular governors.
The Democrats have always stressed that they do not oppose the paying of the tax refunds, saying they just want to adopt a more prudent approach that doesn’t stretch GovGuam’s borrowing limit to the fullest.
However, this distinction was lost and in the communication battle, Adelup’s simple message that the Democrats don’t want tax refunds won out.
Adelup endlessly hammered this point in numerous press releases and broadcasts which blamed the Democrats for stonewalling on the tax refunds.
In the end, the administration also succeeded in a divide-and-rule tactic that brought a number of Democrats to its side.
On the eve of Wednesday’s vote, Adelup issued a release which actually named four Democrats as possible swing votes. By the time the actual vote was counted, almost all the Democrats supported the bond borrowing, with only three Democrats not supporting the bill. And it is a testament to the sensitivity of the tax refund issue that those three Democrats didn’t even vote with an outright “no,” preferring to just pass three times.
In his reaction to the passage of the bill, Calvo indicated that although the bill reduced the amount for tax refunds and stretched out the wait for many people to get their refunds, he is likely to sign the bill into law, thus breaking the impasse that has plagued Adelup and the Legislature for weeks.
To be sure, the Democrats were able to insert their own provisions such as the capping of the interest rate to 6.5 percent and the capping of borrowing levels to 90 percent of GovGuam’s debt capacity.
The bill also sets aside $20 million from the amount borrowed for tax refunds to pay out requests for humanitarian purposes, including medical needs.
The Democrats’ amendments at least give a semblance of compromise to the bill without looking like a complete capitulation to Adelup.
Some say the Democrats’ accommodation can be seen as an act of statesmanship that seeks a higher interest that transcends petty politics. Whether this perception sticks, of course, remains to be seen. The governor may not have gotten the original bond bill he wanted, but he has still won a major political victory. The Democrats now have their work cut out for them if they are to maintain their majority in the Legislature.
One thing certain, at least, is that the biggest winner is the people of Guam who can expect some of their tax refunds soon.