A Call to Work Together on the Budget
By acting Governor Ray Tenorio

This past Saturday the people of Umatac and Merizo had the chance to be part of education decisions. Rightfully so. The education agenda doesn't belong to the government. It belongs to you. Tonight the people of Inarajan will have this same opportunity. And almost every day until July 7, we will be going in to each village bringing this agenda to you… and you will have the chance to be heard.

A hallmark of our administration is transparency. And that doesn't just mean that we tell you what we're doing. It also means we open up this government so you can be part of the decision-making process. It's the very essence of our belief that the government belongs to you.

In the very same way, we view decisions on government finances as decisions that deal squarely with your money. After all, the government would have nothing to spend without you working hard and paying your taxes. Government doesn't exist without you.

I'm bringing this up because the legislative finance committee is once again gearing up to entertain the annual budget request. For many people, this is a yearly spectacle of politics at its worst, where good punch lines and a lot of misinformation becomes the entertainment on the 6-o-clock news.

Last year we made a very big deal out of the budget. First of all, we fought very hard to pay your tax refunds. That was half the battle. The other part of it was getting a good budgeting of your tax dollars so that the government can continue paying your tax refunds. Not just that, we need to pay our vendors and provide the quality services you expect.

We thought it was a fight worth fighting, because essentially, we were fighting for your money and the good use of it. But it didn't have to be a fight. We submitted a budget last year and we were very open about everything. We provided justifications. We made one mistake and we corrected it. We provided all the data needed. We showed up to answer all the questions, even though some senators kept interrupting and clearly didn't hear the answers.

What struck the Governor and I as odd was that we went to the legislature with a realistic budget that was different from the past three budgets. We thought it was odd that the Democratic leadership would fight so hard against a different budget, simply because we were just trying to correct the three bad budgets before it. Those budgets led to the major deficit that was mainly made of your tax refunds. All we wanted to do was fix it.

We started with realistic revenues. We prioritized spending based on the limited resources. This came after we cut spending on personnel and other costs. We did the right thing… what you elected us to do.

But instead our people were yelled at. All of you were treated to numbers here and charts there, and all these insinuations that we were either wrong or that we didn't know what we were talking about. Worst, some even insinuated that we were just storing money away in some fairytale account.

Well, it's been a year since that fiasco, and a lot has happened. For one, all the prior year tax refunds were paid in December. And for the first time in 20 years, those who filed their tax refunds this year either already received it or will get it in the same year you filed. And for the first time ever, cash was put away into the tax refund account.

We kept this government afloat, despite all the tinkering with the finances that came from the legislative Office of Finance and Budget. We worked with Democrats and Republicans alike in the legislature on fiscal reform and more efficient use of money. All of that work continues, because we recognize that things aren't perfect… but they're certainly better than they've been in a long time. The government was going in the wrong direction with the bad budgets of 2009, 2010 and 2011, drummed up by the current Office of Finance and Budget that criticizes us all the time.

All the facts point to a reversal of this bad trend. The 2012 budget is pretty on track, and a lot of the sins of the past had been corrected. Our validation? Standard and Poor's gave us the best ratings we've ever had, upgraded another rating, and affirmed all the rest. We literally took that to the bank.

Now that we have a track record of doing what we say we're gonna do, I am pleading with senators to listen to what we have to say as the budget hearings progress. Please tune out all that rhetoric and yelling that we were subjected to last year. If they put another chart in front of you that doesn't make sense, it's probably because it doesn't add up. And if they tell you that they reworked the numbers based on the data we gave, just think of all the mischief of the people on Wall Street who ruined people's lives with creative accounting.

We've always stood ready to answer questions and provide information about the people's tax dollars. We can have a civil debate about these matters… one that is professional and understandable… and without hidden agendas.

My colleagues in the legislature, we're not just talking about some budget in the sky that means nothing to people. We're talking about the money that our people entrusted to this government. This is money that was taken out of their paychecks to pay for this government. That's money they could be using to pay for food, their bills, the mortgage, or the rent, or daycare. We have a solemn duty to treat this process with the respect our people deserve.

I truly hope we do not succumb to the same National-Enquirer-type politics and entertainment we saw last year. If one of our leaders continues to ignore the call of our people to work together and with respect, then I ask the rest of us to just ignore the noise… and move forward. Guamanians deserve no less from the government they're paying for.

Thank you and God bless you all.