It’s your money: what happens when senators don’t spend

by Ken Wetmore, KUAM News
Wednesday, March 24, 2004

“A penny saved is a penny gained”, “waste not, want not”...these are sayings that aren't normally associated with government expenditures. You are far more likely to hear stories here on KUAM about government entities complaining about under funding than over-funding.

On that note, we’ve got an unusual story for you.

It's about a senator who has managed to save over $105,000. After you hear his story, you'll understand why other senators are unlikely to follow his example. Senator Bob Klitzkie says he works hard to save taxpayer dollars. The freshman Republican senator has only hired two employees who are at the bottom of the legislative aide pay scale and conducts business in an office that takes the term no frills to new heights.

“It's kind of dark in here,” said Senator Klitzkie, taking us through a tour of his Hagatna. “That's because we haven't turned the lights on we only turn the lights on when we need the lights.” He confirmed that this was one of his many money-saving initiatives, saying, “we try to conserve electricity as much as we can.” He also pointed out to his nearby receptionist, and said he’s got a camera installed, commenting, “we have a camera and microphone upstairs, so if someone comes in they, you know, say hello and we greet them and then someone (usually me) comes down and accommodates whoever it is that comes in.”

In fact, if you call Senator Klitzkie's office, there's a good chance he'll answer the phone. And, he and his wife do much of the janitorial work around the office.

All the scrimping has resulted in Senator Klitzkie only spending a little over half of the money allocated to his office through February of this year. That translates over $100,000 saved. Senator Klitzkie says he'd like to transfer the money to the Public School Library Resources Fund, saying, “I hope that I can do it. I think it's a good place to put the money and it tends to encourage frugality, I think, when people see that the money that has been saved goes to a worthy purpose.”

The chairperson of the Legislature's Rules Committee, senator Lou Leon Guerrero, says she's glad Senator Klitzkie is being contentious about taxpayer money. Her Committee has oversight of all expenditures by the Legislature. “We, of course, encourage our senators to be frugal and thrift in their spending,” she explained.

But, that encouragement may not come in the way you expect. Senator Leon Guerrero says transferring Senator Klitzkie's savings to the Public School Library Resources Fund isn't as easy as Senator Klitzkie simply cutting a check. She explained, “We'd have to de-appropriate it, you know, and it has to go back again into the General Fund, and that's then when we'd debate the use of those monies. I mean some legislators, like myself, might say ‘no, it needs to go to [the Medically Indigent Program] and so it's an issue of debate on the floor.”

When asked if he thought though that if the senator was able to save a large amount that they should be able to decide, and whether their wish(es) should be honored, Senator Leon Guerrero replied, “No, because it's not really his's the taxpayer's money.”

Here's what happens to your tax dollars if a senator saves them. The lapsed funds continue to carryover every fiscal year as long as the senator can get re-elected, or until her or she finds a way to spend them. This could be anything from hiring more staff to upgrading office space. According to Senator Leon Guerrero, if the senator losses an election, the senator can disperse his or her lapsed funds to any senator who was elected. Failing to do that, the money reverts back to the Legislature's central operations.

Back at Senator Klitzkie's office, the freshman senator says even if the money doesn't go where he hopes it will, he intends to continue to be thrifty. “Well, it's the public's money and it's not my money, and I want to be as frugal as possible with the public's money,” he confidently confirmed.

Senator Klitzkie says his cost cutting hasn't cut down on his services. The senator notes his office is open from 7AM to 7PM and points out his good track record of attending public hearings a sessions of the Legislature. He has also authored seven bills …

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