Truth Always Wins
By Eddie Baza Calvo
My fellow Guamanians,
I truly enjoy opportunities to speak with you. Your views are refreshing. Your concerns are our priority. Your criticism helps to build a better government. Your praise lets us know that what we're doing is working.
One of the many ways we're trying to improve services to you is by being open and transparent. We're communicating more with you. Thanks to the media, we have this forum to speak with you about issues… and to let you know what we're doing and why we're doing it. Last week, my Director of Administration, Benita Manglona, delivered two messages on the budget proposals we submitted to senators. A couple lawmakers called these TV messages "infomercials." I'm glad. These were messages meant to relay information on the budget proposals. We always want you to know what we're doing. Because at the end of the day, we answer to no one but you. After all, it is your government.
One of the main messages we passed along was the urgency of passing the supplemental budget request. We've managed the cash coming in to the government in a way that will allow us to pay for the bare minimum operations of your government through the end of the fiscal year. Unfortunately, the current budget is short on the spending authority to get several agencies through the fiscal year. This is what we're asking for. If we don't get this spending authority, then the cash will sit in the bank and the agencies will begin closing, one by one, starting next month.
One of the main points we made to senators during last week's contentious budget hearing was that behind all these numbers in the budget are the faces of people who rely on these agencies. They provide services most, if not all, citizens use. We're talking about ambulance services at the Fire Department… services for people living with disabilities… the public schools… care for children living on the fringes… the list goes on.
Senators didn't seem to have a problem with the shortfalls. But, they did pause when opposition came for the largest funding source we are proposing. Over the past few years, the government has been overpaying the Retirement Fund. The Public Auditor, whom we all go to for audits and sound financial advice, recently revealed this overpayment of up to $18.1 million. We're proposing that we offset $15.1 million of this amount so we can pay for part of the shortfalls. This should make perfect sense to anyone who's ever overpaid on their power bill, or their cell phone bill. Say you owe $95 to GPA for your March power bill, but you pay $100 instead. That $5 overpayment doesn't get swallowed up by GPA.
They credit it to your account so that you pay $5 less on your next bill. This is exactly what we're asking for from the Retirement Fund. And, if they practiced good financial management and did not rely on the overpayment when they received it, then their portfolio shouldn't be harmed by an offset. We're not asking for cash from the Retirement Fund. We just want to offset what doesn't belong to the Retirement Fund and instead belongs to taxpayers. If there's a better solution to replace this revenue source, I am definitely open to it from senators.
The senators did raise a good point, though. They said there needs to be better communication among all of GovGuam. I agree, especially since we're also asking for a bond to pay all the tax refunds by Christmas. We have to convince senators that it's a good idea to borrow this money so we can pay you the refunds you are owed. I do have an important message for senators and the public. It is this: If there's a better way to pay these refunds by the end of this year, let's see it. I'm open to all suggestions. They just have to be reasonable and realistic.
Going back to the supplemental budget… one of the main components is a request to fund the remainder of the health insurance benefits. We have to make this request because the current budget did not fund it all. Now, to be very plain, this has been a subject that has haunted me since September last year. It was used against Ray and me as a campaign issue. Political detractors said the increase was my fault because of my last name. They said, ‘Hey look, now we're not going to have enough for health insurance in Fiscal Year 2011 because of Calvo's SelectCare.'
I've never really spoken about this issue, because there's not much I could say except that I had nothing to do with the increase or the lack of funding for this fiscal year. I wasn't on the negotiating team nor did I even vote for the budget that allowed insufficient funding for the contract. My fiscal team went to work from day one to find the revenue sources to pay for all the shortfalls, including the shortfall for health insurance. Finally, we found the revenues and we proposed the supplemental budget. I took the punches and we looked for solutions.
I didn't know that all this time, the same people who were blaming me for the increase, knew about it all along and hid it from the public. It was purposely shielded from you so that the shortfall could be used against me in the election. While the truth that came out is vindication, I am angry that the politics some leaders played now leaves 23,000 GovGuam employees, their dependents and retirees fully exposed to the risk of no health insurance by mid-June.
To the few who had a hand in this mess: I hope you take away from this a couple important lessons. First, the truth will always prevail. Second, treat others the way you want to be treated. Third, politics will never win. Telling the truth and working together is the winning formula.
I'm not mad for what this political game has done to my family. I am concerned about what these politics did to jeopardize the health and safety or our GovGuam family. I'm offering the olive branch. Take it, and let's fix this problem. That's all our people expect. They can forgive failure, as long as we show them that, beyond all the politics, we truly care for them.
Thank you, and God bless you all.