AT THIS time, the Committee on Appropriations is busy with the process of analyzing and preparing the fiscal year 2014 government of Guam budget.
My office has received all the line agency and semi-autonomous agency budget requests, which are necessary to begin the evaluation process of determining how the scarce tax collection resources are to be used in FY2014.
Once again, the Office of Finance and Budget (OFB) of the Guam Legislature under the direction of the Committee on Appropriations is publishing the most complete information on the FY2014 budget with all the details submitted by the executive branch. I invite you to visit the OFB website at http://senbenp.com/budget/FY14.html and gladly accept any comments or ideas you may have. Visit our website at www.senbenp.com or email us at office[at]senbenp.com to submit them.
Last year, the FY2013 budget, Public Law 31-233, was signed by Gov. Calvo in August 2012 and appropriated $772 million in total revenue. The cornerstone of the 2013 budget includes $100 million set aside for income tax refunds plus another $14 million for refunds that came from the legislatively mandated reduction of government spending. The additional $14 million earmarked for income tax refunds includes realistic and measurable government budget cuts.
The Legislature made the financially sound decision that the amount of $14 million was a practical amount to be reduced from all three branches and the different government agencies. The budget cuts provide the governor and the different semi-autonomous agencies the flexibility to determine the area within their operations or personnel expenses that can be foregone for the fiscal year while limiting the amount of the cuts to 8 percent for any one agency or program. The Legislature also made certain that Education and retiree COLA and supplemental annuities payments remained a priority as there were no budget cuts to any of these programs.
Chapter XI Section I of Public Law 31-233 requires the Treasurer of Guam to deposit the legislatively mandated savings from these budget cuts, or more than $1 million a month from daily collections, on the last day of each month into the Income Tax Refund Efficient Payment Trust Fund (Trust Fund). To date, the government’s financial management system does not show that the Treasurer of Guam has in fact made these $1 million monthly payments to the Trust Fund.
While it is not clear why this money is not being deposited, my hope is that it is not being diverted to pay legal expenses to private law firms hired by the governor to fight the District Court order that requires timely payment of income tax refunds, to settle income tax collection disputes that should be handled by the Attorney General, or to fight the Attorney General’s opposition to diverting bond money, which is paid for by our monthly trash fees, to pay the owners of the property that was condemned for the Layon Landfill.
I believe utilizing taxpayer funds to hire private law firms to replace the Attorney General over court dealings that the governor has a conflicted and vested interest in is not in the best interest of the taxpayers. We have seen in this newspaper, the “controversy” as stated in yesterday’s headlines regarding the Layon Landfill condemnation case where there was more than $30 million for “damages” owed to the owners of the land adjacent to the landfill, one of which is Calvo’s Insurance Underwriters. This is the same District Court case the governor is attempting to replace the Attorney General with his own chosen private law firm.
The damages being paid are not even for the condemned land, rather for the same land that is now being leased as a solar farm paid for by all of us through our monthly power bills. In essence, the taxpayers are not only going to pay for $30 million in damages to the owners of the land adjacent to the landfill, one of which is Calvo’s Insurance Underwriters, but we will also be paying for a lease for the solar farm that is occupying this land through our monthly power bills to those same property owners. The irony of the tax payers paying the same people twice for the same land is incomprehensible and unjust.
During this upcoming budget preparation for FY2014, the Committee on Appropriations will make certain that not only will every attempt be made at ensuring branches and agencies are funded at a level that will allow them to efficiently operate and deliver quality government service while ensuring that refund payments are promptly distributed to you, but I will also make every attempt to ensure that conflicting interests do not get in the way of the people of Guam’s interests. The people of Guam cannot afford another bond to pay income tax refunds or fund government operations, nor should the people of Guam be subjected to paying twice for property that the governor has a vested interest in through bond funds. It is imperative that tax refund deposit laws are followed, government service efficiency is maximized in every agency, and the interests of the people of Guam are placed above all other personal interests.