Guam - Financial relief is on its way to island farmers as Governor Eddie Calvo signed legislation into public law appropriating $450,000 as compensation to farmers for the Crop Damages Program.
Bill 223 was passed by lawmakers on Monday, which had originally proposed to appropriate $790,000 - $400,000 of which was from the Guam Economic Development Authority's bond service fees received through the Guam Waterworks Authority's bond sale. An additional $390,000 would be appropriated from the General Fund. The funding should be available within three days of the law's enactment.
Governor Calvo had line item vetoed the appropriation to adjust the amount from GEDA to $60,000 instead because there are significant resources already available to assist our farmers. In his transmittal letter he says "assistance cannot be made at the risk of curtailing the success GEDA has demonstrated of late." GEDA had opposed Bill 223 as they had already earmarked the funds to address future operational shortfalls and meet statutory mandates.
Agriculture director Tita Taitague says she has mixed feelings over the line item veto reducing the amount but says the funding is sufficient for now. She further adds that funding is always an issue saying other agencies might be needing help as well. However, as a farmer herself, she's happy that those who experienced damage from the recent storm will finally be receiving some assistance.
She says 63 farmers have since submitted their claims to the Department of Agriculture this week over damages hoping to take advantage of $200,000 worth of grants ordered by Governor Calvo earlier this week.
Bill 223's author Senator Ben Pangelinan meanwhile issued a statement calling out Governor Eddie Calvo's line item veto saying "once again, the governor takes punitive actions against our hardworking farmers."
Pangelinan further cites GEDA management's assurance during the bill's public hearing that they had a contingency plan to deal with the shortfall if the bond had not been approved by the legislature and they did not receive any fees.
"It is truly ironic that the governor chooses to reduce funds to our farmers who drive economic development and give it to an agency that has a specific purpose to support economic development," Pangelinan says. "GEDA has about $3.5 million in cash reserves and will receive close to an additional $400,000 from the most recent Guam Waterworks Authority bond issuance. There was more than enough to fund both the farmers' program and extensive travel budget at GEDA."
Pangelinan says he plans to pursue a veto-override of the governor's line item veto.