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Senators pass legislation to raise minimum wage

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 by Ken Quintanilla

Guam - It's raised much debate these past few months and today lawmakers finally got to the controversial minimum wage measure on session floor. While a majority of the senators voted to pass Bill 316, others let their concern known by showing up at the Guam Legislature this morning.  

It appears the compromise has worked as lawmakers passed substituted Bill 316 today. The latest version would increase the minimum wage by one dollar starting January 1st of next year to $8.25.

Ron Young is the treasurer and secretary of Security Title and is also a member of the Guam Chamber of Commerce. He was among the nearly dozen business folk who made their way to the legislature this morning to listen in on Bill 316. "Everybody wants to see people make more money but to legislate that people in business have to arbitrarily pay people more money and it's not going to do them any good is difficult for us," he said.

Young says instead lawmakers should focus on educational opportunities to help with addressing higher wages. M80 systems president Michael Ady meanwhile agrees that training is part of that solution.  He adds as a business owner, he would prefer to see an independent economic impact study done first before any raise is implemented. "I want something that is factual and researched is done well and move forward with it but the idea that we have to do it this way and do it right now doesn't make a whole lot sense to me, lets research this, thinking it out and let's do it right," he said.

Substituted Bill 316 had proposed having the University of Guam president or his designee to conduct a quarterly economic assessment 30 days after the act was in place. Vice Speaker BJ Cruz moved to delete the section from the bill this morning. GHRA chairman Bart Jackson meanwhile responds to Vice Speaker BJ Cruz citing data by GHRA as part of the reasoning behind the bill's introduction. "He says accurately that rates have increased and they have what he doesn't really know is how many hotels were losing money when the rates were low," he said.

He adds the minimum wage increase will cause damages to small businesses including his own, noting, "Affectively Hotel Santa Fe is a mom and pop operation, we're a small hotel, we don't command the rates and we don't command the power of larger hotels so smaller hotels are going to be impacted directly much more by this increase."

Jackson hopes the hours of testimony submitted by the business community wouldn't fall on deaf ears by senators. Senator Michael Limitiaco was the only senator who spoke in opposition on the bill, saying, "Not once, nowhere in that committee report that was published answered the question who was going to pay for it and the answer to that question is far, is widely spread, it's not just the business community, it's the very people that this legislation is intending to assist raising the minimum wage will have a negative effect on employment, it's very simple math."

The bill passed with 13-yes votes, one no and one excused. Limtiaco is not seeking re-election. After the passage, Guam Chamber of Commerce chairman Peter Sgro tells KUAM that if he had to make a choice for his members and the economy in general, he would rather accept a 14% increase with the dollar raise compared to the 40% increase with the original $10.10 proposal. He adds 72% of its members are small businesses and remains concerned for them.

Bill 316 will now make its way to the Governor's Office for signature before it is made into public law.

The governor he would be looking at the bill closely to make sure all the language is proper. He added "I want to be sure that what came out was the compromise the republican senators were able to negotiate between the chamber and the democratic majority. If it is, then this is a reasonable change, and I'll be inclined to sign it into law. If this compromise will raise people's wages without endangering anyone's jobs or deflating service levels, then it's a good thing."

Guam Womens' Chamber of Commerce board president Lou Leon Guerrero thanked senators from both sides of the aisle for "providing our workers greater purchasing power and helping improve the economy of our island for both business and the community.

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