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Senators discuss funding for election tabulators

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 by Ken Quintanilla

Guam - Lawmakers went into back to back sessions today to discuss a pair of bills - the first of which would address funding to purchase new tabulation equipment for the Guam Election Commission. "Si yu'os ma'ase to all of them for their support," said Guam Election Commission executive director Maria Pangelinan.

She refers to swift action by lawmakers today on addressing funding for new tabulation machines. It was last week when Bill 334 lapsed into law appropriating $206,000 from the Supplemental Appropriation Revenue Fund for the purchase of the machines along with ballot stock and coding services. However BBMR recently informed her that there is actually no funding in the SAR account. "So because of that, the only option they would have is to see about using fiscal year funding that was brought up to the attention of the commissioners and we all know that the commissioners and I don't want to have a deficit at the end of the fiscal year," she said.

Well aware of the GEC concerns, session was called this morning to discuss Bill 377 - introduced by Senator Rory Respicio - that would do what Bill 334 intended to do but instead authorizes the funds from the Fiscal Year 2014 revenues. The bill passed with all 13 senators present voting in favor of the measure. If and when its signed into law, Pangelinan says the funds will be electronically transferred to election systems and software in Nebraska. She expects the machines to take two weeks to arrive to Guam with a drop dead date of August 1.

If not, Pangelinan said, "Two options are to dust off the old machines and two are still working, simply use two and get them prepared for the primary and the other one is the hand-count."

Preventative maintenance would still be required for the old machines. Bill 377 meanwhile was called "doubly critical" by Senator Respicio as an amendment was included by Senator Brant McCreadie to appropriate $668,000 to pay for prior years overtime for the Guam Police Department. Public Law 32-168 had previously only authorized the governor to pay for the overtime. The bill was transmitted to the Governor's Office today. The Governor's Office issued a statement saying, "The governor agrees with the intent of the bill and wants to fund the GEC and pay overtime to police officers. At this time, our legal team is reviewing the technical aspects of the legislation."

As for the Supplemental Appropriations Revenue Fund itself, Vice Speaker BJ Cruz said during session that he believed the SAR provision was not being complied with. The SAR fund's intent is to ensure that various agencies deemed vital would be funded, despite limited resources available. According to Cruz, there is a provision in the General Appropriation Act that quarterly revenue collections of excess funds shall be transferred and deposited from the General Fund to the SAR fund. He says for the past two quarters there showed to be a total of $19 million in excess funds.

Governor Eddie Calvo meanwhile in a letter to Speaker Judi Won Pat last week informing her of Bill 334 lapsing into law says he did not sign the bill because the appropriation source of the SAR fund does not have revenue backed by cash for this appropriation. He says this in effect is an empty promise and will cause a deficit.

Department of administration Director Benita Manglona meanwhile responds by saying “Once again the Legislature has created bad fiscal policy.” She says the SAR fund as outlined in the budget law can result in a deficit or an unbalanced budget.
 
Manglona adds no money was put in the SAR fund because the fiscal year is not over yet and depositing funds prematurely can result in a deficit. She further notes a collection of ‘excess’ revenue in one month may be offset by low collections in another month. 
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