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Special session evening update

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This evening’s special session was calmer than the fireworks that erupted earlier in the afternoon with heads of the Guam Fire Department and Police Department being questioned about their decision to close the Hagatna Precinct, and Piti and Astumbo Fire Stations.

Lawmakers are currently in another special session to discuss a new bill (Bill 1-6S) from Governor Eddie Calvo. The legislation would increase the business privilege tax by 2% or from 4% to 6%, include all amendments that were approved in Bill 245 which was voted down last week, and require weekly Special Economic Services meetings.

This evening senators questioned the governor’s fiscal policy team about the proposal to raise the business privilege tax and clarification on several other bills that propose the implementation of  a 2% general sales tax. Public hearings for the sales tax measures are scheduled for this week.

Sen. Dennis Rodriguez Jr., asked the fiscal policy team if no bill was passed now or later this week whether another press release was going to come out about another fire or police station being shutdown in the next few days. BBMR’s Lester Carlson didn’t specifically answer the question but said they are there with the senators trying to find a consensus for a solution. “It clearly points out that regardless of what we like and don’t like there needs to be revenue enhancements and we’re asking the body to come to an agreement on what it’s going to be. We are committed to work with the Legislature on a number of things and a number of ideas,” Carlson said. “But there need to be some movement soon so that we can get past the first hurdle. So we can have a better idea how we navigate fiscal year 2019.”  The government of Guam is facing a $67 million shortfall in revenues for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2018. The shortfall is attributed to federal tax reforms.

Sen. Telena Nelson meanwhile asked if the 2% BPT increase was passed, would it stop the furloughs.  “We’re not getting any direct answers, we’re getting novelty words,” she said. Carlson responded “Everyone is working to streamline”. Sen. Nelson said her concern is that cuts will still have to be made even with the BPT increase, “this isn’t going to stop the furlough process from going forward,” she added.

Just before 7 o’clock senator Jim Espladon moved to recess session until Tuesday at 10:00am to allow his colleagues and their staff to spend time with their families and enjoy the holidays. Sen. Nelson however moved to amend the motion to Monday at 2:00pm because of the government’s financial crisis. Sen. Frank Aguon, Jr. then spoke noting a series of public hearings that are scheduled for this week on bills containing revenue enhancements including a one from the Governor. Sen. Nelson’s amendment failed as did Sen. Espaldon’s initial motion.

Sen Michael San Nicolas meanwhile asked for more time from the Governor to go over the information that was provided during this evening’s special session so that he could come up with ideas to address the financial crisis.

Carlson was amenable to the additional time so that he too could go over information and reports that were being sent by govguam agencies that also must be submitted to the Legislature.  He said 10:00am on Tuesday would be a reasonable time frame.

Sen. Mary Torres then made the motion to recess session for Tuesday at 10:00am. Sen. Tom Ada however suggested it be Tuesday at 2:00pm instead. Acting Speaker Therese Terlaje chimed in pointing out that special session on bill 1-5s was scheduled to reconvene at 2:00pm and recommended reconvening before or after that time. Senator Joe San Agustin however was confused because he thought that particular special session was revoked. Sen. Frank Aguon, Jr. clarified that were in fact two special sessions. In the end, senators voted to return to special session on Bill 1-6s on Tuesday at 2:30pm.

Reacting to lawmakers recessing for the holiday, the Governor’s Communications Director Oyaol Ngirairikl said “If need be, then senators need to meet everyday until they adopt a solution to the financial crisis. Senators are policy makers. They are tasked with the enormous responsibility of prioritizing the government’s budget. And yet they have not passed any bills these past couple of months even after hundreds of hours spent in meeting and debate”.

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