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Battle wages over tax refund funds

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by Ken Quintanilla

Guam - The fight between the Calvo Administration and the democrat majority in the legislature moves forward as several dates were set for the declaratory judgment filed just last week over how funds in the tax refund account can be spent.

With members from the Guam Legislature along with the Calvo Administration present, a status hearing was heard this morning before Chief Justice Robert Torres. The matter at hand - the Guam Legislature's democrat majority's request for a declaratory judgment relative to the use of funds from the Tax Refund Efficient Payment Trust Fund.

The petition was filed by the Law Offices of John Terlaje over whether Guam law allows the use of funds deposited into the account for other purposes other than for tax refunds. Senator Ben Pangelinan says he discovered alleged unlawful withdrawals by the governor from the fund for non-tax refund related purposes to include operations estimated at almost $50 million. Pangelinan has repeatedly refused calls from KUAM. Today his statements to KUAM were even shorter than today's status hearing.

"It's a good thing to get this law clarified," he stated.

Department of Administration director Benita Manglona says the lawsuit is unnecessary adding there's no merit in the case. She says since the beginning of this administration, the goal was to pay off over $300 million in tax refunds that were owed resulting in the government taking out a bond. "We had a really good fight at the legislature because there was a lot of opposition in us trying to move forward with that and it took us a couple of months, and we were very determined to do it and we did it and this last year was the first year we paid over $140 million using General Fund money and this is without any borrowing and to date we have been paying tax refunds in a timely manner and we will continue to do so," she said.

As for Pangelinan's allegations over unlawful withdrawals? "Just take a look at how much has been paid and that's the basis is the goal is to pay tax refunds and we're doing that," the senator said. When asked if it was untrue and incorrect," he replied, "Regardless of what he says, bottom line is we're paying tax refunds."

Earlier this week, Adelup noted the withdrawals in question are one of either two things: revenues that passed through that fund or reimbursements to the General Fund for payments the general fund made on behalf of the efficient payment trust fund.

The republican minority meanwhile also called the lawsuit unnecessary.

Minority Leader Tony Ada even questioned why the democrat majority is not using its legal counsel Attorney Therese Terlaje, who was present today, and instead opted to use her brother's law firm. John Terlaje said he did not have a comment, and when Senator Pangelinan was asked for his thoughts on the legal counsel and about some concern about the legislature's legal counsel not representing, he walked away.

Acting Speaker Tina Muna Barnes, also present today, told KUAM the funding for legal assistance is authorized through Resolution 312 and comes from Pangelinan's Appropriations Committee. Several dates meanwhile have been set with opening briefs by the legislature due March 7, any amicus briefs supporting the legislature's position or not supporting either party due March 14, the governor's response brief due March 21 and any amicus brief supporting the governor's position due March 28. The legislature may serve and file a reply brief by March 31. Oral arguments on the matter are set for April 16. A panel consisting of Torres, Associate Justice F. Philip Carbullido and Associate Justice Katherine Maraman will oversee the case. 

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