Camacho says Legislature's budget bills equate to "Christmas in September"

by Ken Wetmore, KUAM News
Monday, September 27, 2004

Governor Felix Camacho called a meeting of his cabinet to brief the various GovGuam agency directors on the Legislature's two budget bills. Late Saturday night the Guam Legislature passed two budget bills, approving a primary budget bill totaling $414.9 million and funding most public sector agencies.

The secondary budget bill totals $32.5 million and, among other things, funds the Governor's Office, the Legislature, and University of Guam scholarships.

Taken together the two budgets total just over $447 million, almost precisely the amount of the Legislature's first budget bill that was vetoed by Governor Camacho. While Republicans thwarted the Democrat majority's attempt to gain a veto override of the original bill, Saturday night Republicans voted in favor of the primary budget bill, while voting against the secondary budget bill.

Governor Camacho's reaction to the two budget bills transmitted to his office by the Legislature over the weekend was both simple and effective: "I guess its Christmas in September." He added, "The reality again is an election is five weeks away and that seems to be the motivating factor in how the budget has been played out. It's a budget of politics, it's a budget based on expenditures, and it's a budget based on unrealistic expectations simply to fulfill political desires."

With KUAM's cameras present the Governor had his financial gurus spell out their problems with the budget. Department of Revenue and Taxation director Art Ilagan opined that the Government of Guam isn't going to meet its Fiscal Year 2004 budget projection of $410 million, saying GovGuam is projected to bring in only $392 million. "We're short $18 million," he sighed. "I still owe 2002 tax returns, [which equate to] about $17 million. The courts have imposed the [Earned Income Tax Credit] upon us...we must pay out, I believe, $34 million this year, nothing in here says EIC. How we going to pay that, there's no money?"

Both Bureau of Budget Management and Research director Carlos Bordallo and Department of Administration director Lou Perez also spoke out, criticizing the two budget bills for being unrealistic and excessive.

In the end, Governor Camacho says were the two bills to become law there would be cash flow problems. "There's about $56 million or so added on to the budget based on what we're projecting. It averages roughly about $4.67 million a month that we need to find to pay for all that they have added on to this budget and I'll tell you right now, cash flow does not reflect that," he announced.

KUAM cameras were only allowed to stay for ten minutes, and the Governor's Office is not saying at this point whether the Governor would veto both bills, only one, or if he will sign the both measures into law at all. By law the Governor has ten days to take action on legislation but with a new fiscal year beginning on Friday, the Governor will have to take action in the next three days if he hopes to avoid a government shutdown. That action will occur even more quickly if the Governor does use his veto power and asks the Legislature for another budget.

Speaker fires back

In response to the Governor's meeting with his cabinet this morning and the Governor's comments about the budget and his apparent dismay with democrat lawmakers, Speaker Ben Pangelinan disagrees the Fiscal Year '05 budget is politically motivated because of the upcoming election.

He fired off, "If the Governor's trying to refer to this budget as a 'Christmas tree budget', I tell you it's his Republican colleagues that have been providing the ornaments and decorating the tree. Because we still stuck to our guns of the $447 million, we did not add any appropriations but the Republican colleagues, his Republican colleagues in the Legislature have continued to attempt to increase the appropriation in this budget."

The Speaker adds it is unfair for the Governor to threaten the thousands of GovGuam employees with talk of a government shutdown, as he believes the two budget bills, along with the Governor's line-item veto power, give him plenty of options other than shutting downing the public sector. "I believe we've given the Governor, like I said, the greatest opportunity here to avoid a government shutdown because nobody wants that," said Pangelinan. "It would be a shame to put these defenseless GovGuam employees who just want to go about doing their job and earn their pay to subject them to the political points the administration may want to make. First it was the Blackmail Budget, now it's the government shutdown budget."

Republicans back Bill 363

While democrat senators are looking for some resolution to the budget fiasco, Republican senators are backing Bill 363. During a meeting with the Governor several weeks ago, Republican lawmakers vowed not to approve a budget the Governor felt was unrealistic and gave appropriations for unimportant items. On Saturday night however, the minority took a different approach on the upcoming fiscal year budget.

Republican senator Robert Klitzkie says he voted in favor of Bill 363 because he and other GOP'ers did not want to see a government shutdown and thought the revised budget was an overall better bill. "The revenue was different because there was only about $414 million appropriated by the big bill, so that's potentially within the ballpark," he surmised. "We did a much better job on education, public safety, and public health so there were some things to like in that budget bill. I didn't like all of it but it's that way with many bills where you like some parts, but not all."



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