The Discipline to Do What Is Right
By Ray Tenorio
My fellow Guamanians,
The director of public health made a decision a few months back. He looked at his budget. He looked at all the services he has to provide. These range from welfare to hot meals for bed-ridden manamko to the Medically Indigent program for people who need, but can't afford, healthcare. He prioritized everything, then he made a decision.
He looked at one service, where the funding went from one-point-one million dollars to 850,000 dollars, and then he got creative. He went to the people providing that service and asked whether they could provide the same service at the lower cost. Their leadership said no. So, he went to other people and asked. They said yes.
At the end of the day, the director of public health got you the same services for 300,000 dollars less out of your pockets annually. What I'm talking about is the senior citizens centers. Lost in all the debate last week was the point that Jim Gillan, the public health director, had his priorities straight. And he knew very well that he wasn't toying with his own money – he was negotiating with your money. He wasn't going to sacrifice hot meals for seniors, or MIP for sick patients, or bus rides for our manamko to get to the doctor. When push came to shove, and the political heat was high, he looked out for the manamko and for your bottom line.
That is the Calvo Tenorio way.
The entire government can learn from Jim's example.
Let the SPIMA issue be a wake up call to all island leaders and agency heads. The taxpayers of Guam don't have enough money to give the government to pay for all the services mandated by the law. Put simply, there are too many mandates, and way too many of them are underfunded or not funded.
Last year we borrowed from the bank to pay the people part of what you are owed. We also cut millions in spending. But it's not enough. We need to cut millions more. This is why the Governor's fiscal team is preparing a second round of cuts and revenue enhancements.
We need to do enough to pay down the deficit and pay off the tax refunds. We have to cut spending by prioritizing government services. Prioritizing isn't a verb meant to be used only as a soundbyte in a political commercial. It is very simple and real. It means education is at the top of the list with your safety, your health, and your pocketbooks. And it's not the agencies themselves that are the priority. It is their core services that are the priorities and should get the funds.
We simply can't afford to waste time on the fiscal reforms needed by rushing to save every service without regard for the fiscal realities and the clear priorities of the community. We need to cut so we can invest savings into teacher pay that will attract the best teachers for your kids. We need more public safety officers to protect you. We need to re-evaluate all the programs for people living with disabilities and make sure these programs are working for the greatest number of people. We need to invest in a healthy community so we're not spending so much on urgent and emergent treatment in the long run.
We need to be reasonable, not reckless with the finite amount of money the people give the government every year. And I'll speak the unspeakables, because this needs to be said. When it comes to preparing students for life, who matters most and who matters least within DOE? What is more important? A hot meal to a bed-ridden senior citizen, or the contract for a non-profit organization? Would it be better to outsource bus operations, or put together all mass transit operations under DPW – an agency that has proven it can do more with less? There are critical services, and then there are services that we would like to have but can't afford. We don't have a choice. We haven't had a choice for 20 years, except to raid tax refunds.
But there's only so much the executive branch can do. I have to tell you, we've been bearing the brunt of fiscal reform. After all, it's our commitment to excellence in improvement of services. The executive branch isn't the only user of tax money for operations, though. This entire government has a fiduciary duty to cut costs in these austere times. If the priorities really are education, healthcare, safety and finances, then we all have to do our part.
And we can't buckle when the sacrifices are made and the going gets tough. If we're seriously committed to fiscal discipline, all leaders have to forget that there's an election this year and, together, do what is necessary and what is right.
Thank you, and Si Yu'us Ma'ase for your time today.