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Community can voice opinion on minimum wage increase

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by Ken Quintanilla

Guam - The public hearing for legislation aiming to raise the minimum wage is set to begin. In the past two weeks, we've heard what the governor, senators and even the Guam Chamber of Commerce think about the proposal, but what about those who matter most in the community?

Agana Heights resident Cynthia Sablan believes its time to raise the minimum wage and supports Bill 316. "I think it's due and I think it's good for those people who have been working really hard to make ends meet," she said.

Tonight, the public will have the chance to speak on the measure during the first of three hearings at the Guam Legislature. Bill 316 introduced by Vice Speaker BJ Cruz would raise the minimum wage by $0.95 over the next three years capped at $10.10 by the year 2017. "We got to remember there are a lot of people hurting out there and that the rich only gets richer and we have to do it it's time to give these people an opportunity to gain more money for their family," she added.

However not everyone is sold on the idea. "I think it's a bit much don't you think?" questioned Tamuning resident Tina Diaz, who says the proposal needs to have a balanced approach. "But I think businesses should be able to get compensation on the wage whether it's a tax break because it's really difficult as a business owner to keep that minimum wage and the economy and everything so we have to find a way to give the business owners or the employers an opportunity to transition into that."

It was last week when Senator Chris Duenas and the Republican minority announced plans to introduce a companion measure to the minimum wage bill that aimed to provide that balanced approach. Bill 323 introduced on Monday would reduce the Business Privilege Tax rate to 3.8% along with increasing certain Business Privilege Tax exemptions from 40% to 75%. For others like BankPacific president and CEO Phil Flores, he's opposed to both proposals.

"I don't agree with the wage increase, I think the market should set that," he told KUAM News. "I also don't agree with the GRT decrease, I don't think government can afford that in the long run."

Flores believes the minimum wage measure is an election year ploy to get votes. But politics aside, Flores says the minimum wage was never meant to be a living wage. "You're not going to raise somebody's wage by a $1 or $2 and expect they're going to be taken out of poverty? If that's the reason, make it $25 dollars an hour - at what point do you say stop? Again, the minimum wage, many who earn minimum wage make more than that, when you include the benefits they get, many of them get medical benefits, get paid holidays, they all get part of their FICA paid by the employers, so there's no one at $7.25 an hour."

So what does Flores suggest instead? "Just leave it alone, because the market will take care of itself - you will always have people impoverished," he said.

Flores adds the city with the highest minimum wage is San Francisco but it also has the highest percentage of homeless people. UOG professor of economics Roseanne Jones meanwhile was unavailable for an on-camera interview but tells KUAM News that given the economic gross projections and the economic forecast for Guam, she believes "it's fine timing for an increase as proposed by this legislation."

For workers like Barrigada resident Terrine Queja, she says because the cost of living is high on Guam, she hopes lawmakers will find a way to balance the wage increase without increasing prices. "Because the cost of living is so high, and then if they raise the minimum wage and businesses increase their prices as well it's just going to be a chain effect so it's not really making the minimum wage increase effective," she said.

The public hearing is set for 8 o'clock tonight at the Guam Legislature. Two more hearings are set for next week April 30 at 2pm and 5:30pm. 
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