Invest, Educate, Employ: ways to help our economy now
by Speaker Judi Won Pat
My Dear People of Guam,
Buenas yan Hafa Adai!
In 2011 Governor Calvo stated that 6,510 Guamanians are looking for a job, 50,000 Guamanians are without an income, and 52,000 people earn a wage that cannot lift them out of poverty. Today for far too many of you these painful facts are just as real. To you they aren't numbers on a balance sheet or tables in an annual report. To you they are questions no one should ever have to answer:
Will your family choose between gas or groceries this week?
Will the bank wait two more days for your car or mortgage payment?
Will you be able to keep the lights on and the water running?
Will the hospital accept your insurance carrier?
These questions can't be answered by just one political party. In ways great and small, they affect every member of our community. They demand a two party solution. Together, and in this Legislature, Democrats and Republicans increased DOE's 2011 appropriation by $20million more than the original amount submitted by the governor. Together, Democrats and Republicans passed legislation to increase first-time home ownership; to support businesses owned by service disabled veterans; to limit the use of foreign labor, and yes, to authorize a bond to pay for tax refunds. While each of us must acknowledge the success of the bond initiative, its proceeds will not last forever.
We sat down to dinner but our children will be paying the bill… with interest. While we work to manage our debt in the long-term, we cannot ignore that our economy needs help right now. That is why we are proposing a three-step plan to speed investment, strengthen our economic focus, and support jobs right here at home.
The first step is to invest. While we support the governor's effort to increase foreign investment, we have shovel-ready dollars here at home. Today nearly $70 million is sitting in a bank when it could be multiplying in our economy.
Thanks to the hard work of Vice Speaker BJ Cruz, the 30th Guam Legislature authorized millions of dollars in tourism-focused Capital Improvement Projects. By spending these dollars now, we will create new jobs, we will shore-up the 10,000 jobs the tourism industry already sustains, and we will strengthen our economy by building an investment each of us will see and feel for generations. Governor, you indicated in the past that no matter how large the challenge there's always something that may be done. I couldn't agree with you more. And by working together and combing our priorities to form a common agenda for prosperity, we will get something done. One such example is in combining our tourism and historic preservation initiatives here in Hagatna. By reigniting our efforts in rebuilding our capitol- the Guam Legislature building and Plaza de Esplana being two examples-we not only restore a national and local historic site, we will save tens of thousands of dollars in rent.
Governor Calvo, on several occasions you've committed to Senator Rory Respicio and I to release Guam Preservation Trust funds (funds dedicated only to the restoration of historic sites) for these specific projects that have been shovel-ready for more than a year. Please, release those monies. By doing so, you put our people to work, beautify Hagatna, and expand tourism beyond Tumon. Rest assured, you are not alone in this process. Whether you've been a senator in Hagatna or a governor at Adelup, we have always been able to work together just as Senator Ben Pangelinan worked with you to avert the loss of $65 million in ARRA funds. With an unemployment rate hovering at nearly 14%, every investment dollar represents potential that must be put to work.
The second step is to educate. As we work to build our own prosperity through investment, we must also build an economy capable of capturing opportunity. Governor, with your second State of the Island Address about a day away, we urge you to finally submit the Classrooms-to-Careers initiative you promised in March of 2011.
While we've been waiting, this legislature has not been standing still. We passed legislation that increased technical scholarships to students, aligned school curriculum to the needs of the workforce, supported the Guam Community College, and prevented a tuition hike at the University of Guam just four months ago. Governor, send us a workable Classrooms-to-Careers initiative and we will do everything we can to help.
The third step is to employ. No matter how much money we invest or how many initiatives are sent, our economy will not be strong unless we support education and create local jobs for our graduates. This is why we join the Public Auditor in asking the Governor to release his 15% forced reserve on DOE. If we can't fund our classrooms now, we cannot create the careers of tomorrow. In addition, we ask Governor Calvo to exercise greater scrutiny in the certification of alien labor.
Each time he signs one, a job meant for Guam is shipped to a foreign worker. Each time he signs one, a job opportunity meant for an unemployed worker in Guam goes away. Our focus on local employment is echoed by Naval Command Marianas. A recent news report indicated that the future lease agreement for the Guam Shipyard will emphasize the employment of local citizens. The opportunity for gainful employment isn't just about a paycheck, it's about basic human dignity. That is something we can all support. The chance for our people to earn a living wage can be realized if we make these commitments today. And yet, our support of local workers must be matched by an equal commitment to a strong and growing private sector. I believe that if we use every dollar slated for investment, both private and public sectors will be stronger. Governor, if we can agree that Classrooms-to-Careers is a goal and not just a slogan… if we agree to meet our commitments to education, then you will have our full support and we will make good on the promissory note every elected official signed with our people.