Governor's special address on the budget
My fellow Guamanians,
A decision is upon the Legislature right now that will half-way define your government's ability to operate over the next decade. By law, the Legislature must pass a budget by August 30, just 28 days away. The budget they now are considering will fund your government from October 1 this year to September 30, 2013. It also will pay you all the tax refunds you are owed by Christmas. This will only happen if the bond proposal is not reduced or manipulated to change what it's currently meant for – all tax refunds.
Before I talk about the bond for tax refunds, I must clarify some of the false information publicly released about the budget portion. First of all, I recognize the need to trim government spending. This is why I proposed a budget smaller than this year's budget. There was a claim made by the Legislature's Office of Finance and Budget that I wanted to increase spending and that I want to grow the government. That is false. This is the first time I recall an administration asking for less.
A claim also was made that I am proposing to fill 309 vacancies in the executive branch with political hires. That's also false. As the OFB should know, these vacancies, by and large, are for fire fighters, health specialists, revenue officers and other classified professionals. 100 of these vacancies are for the mental health permanent injunction alone… none of these I would call political hires.
I am requesting a smaller budget for next fiscal year because you and I both know this government can't keep spending the way it's been spending for years. I'm requesting a smaller budget because we're all tired of government dipping in to your tax refunds to pay for its shortcomings in irresponsible budget plans.
But the spending cuts reflected in the budget I proposed are just a start. These cuts don't truly account for the ongoing cuts we are making. We will release more information on this program as it becomes available. We will rightsize this government for two very important reasons. One, for 20 years your government could not afford its own operations, so it borrowed from your tax refunds account. That is wrong. Two, the size and organization of the government no longer works. It doesn't provide services to you the way it should for the amount of money you pay in taxes. We are changing that. This is an administration that values excellence in performance and customer service. And to address criticism that all we've cut were unclassified employees, that assertion also is wrong. We've dismissed several classified employees for performance. Many more were suspended, demoted or referred to the AG for prosecution. On top of this, over a hundred letters of warning, counseling and reprimand have been issued. That was the count as of a few days ago.
Producing a more efficient government is only a solution to one part of the problem. What we do moving forward will correct the spending habits of GovGuam and ensure tax refunds are not used for operations in the future. The other part of the problem is what this government already owes you in tax refunds. There are several ways to pay this off, but every way besides a bond requires time and major sacrifice. We could make cuts and pay the $280 million debt off in 10 years. We could make drastic cuts and pay back the tax refunds in 5 years. Or, we could make severe cuts… cuts that would shut down whole agencies, large schools and public health and safety services, and pay back the refunds in 3 years.
First of all, I don't think any of you want to wait another day for your tax refunds, let alone three to 10 years. Secondly $280 million is over half the budget. So, unless you want to shut down half the government for an entire year, there is only one option left.
The only foreseeable way to pay all tax refunds this year is to float the bond I proposed. If senators have another solution that we haven't thought of to pay all the refunds this year, then I'm all ears. But the fact of the matter is the bond proposal is the only solution on the table right now. It can be criticized for its cost and the need to back end two years of interest payments, but at the end of the day, what other option is there? I certainly don't want to ignore this debt or extend it for the next decade, and I don't think senators want to do that, either.
My dear people, you've been so patient with the problems of government and the changes we've been implementing these past seven months. While this is a young administration, we hope our actions are swift enough for the change you've been demanding for years. Every day that goes by with this massive debt to taxpayers is another day someone's car is being repossessed, or home is going into foreclosure. Government's actions are not coming soon enough for people going homeless because they get evicted from their apartments.
We have a chance to truly make a difference in people's lives. The government has an opportunity to make the right decision and gain back the people's trust and confidence. All it takes is eight votes in the Legislature. Eight votes to reject any major changes to the bond proposal. Eight votes to reject any increase to the conservative revenue projections. Eight votes to reject any more spending or backdoor changes to our proposal. Eight votes to get the bond passed with the budget so we can pay all refunds by Christmas. A separation of the bond from the budget will only further delay the refunds.
Some time between now and August 30, eight votes will determine whether you get your tax refunds by Christmas. There are only 15 senators, each of them good people, willing and wanting to pay you those tax refunds. Let your voices be heard. Call them. Email them. Call talk radio, or write an editorial. Let them know what this means to you and your family… that this is your money, not the government's.
As for what happens after we pay all the tax refunds, solutions are already underway. There's a concern in the Legislature that this bond will mean more debt service. But, how much longer should taxpayers have to fork the bill for government's inability to manage its finances? How responsible is it to continue making people suffer? How fair is it to force you to make the tough choices in your lives, when political leaders seem unwilling to make those choices in government? We're cutting the size of government so we're never in this place again. I said at the beginning of my talk tonight that my budget and bond proposal will half-way define your government's ability to operate over the next decade. The other half of the solution is one I'm working on right now, and I need your help.
I want to hear from you what works and what doesn't work in your government. This is a public solicitation for your ideas. I want your phone calls and emails about your ideas on how to improve programs and services in the government you're familiar with. If you had a bad experience with one program and an idea how to improve it or merge it with another or eliminate it all together, I want to know. I also want to know about the good experiences you had so we have public input about what works. GPA, GWA, UOG, GCC, the Judiciary and the Legislature are completely out of my reach, so I ask that your suggestions not include them. But, for anything else in the government, please email your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the Customer Service Hotline at 475-GUAM by Friday this week.
We're long overdue for change in this government. I don't want to waste any time making that change. Thank you for your time tonight and God bless.