Legislature, administration hoping for swift budget process
Guam - Lawmakers are finally in receipt of the substituted budget proposal for the next fiscal year. And while there are slight differences compared to the governor's proposal, senators from both sides of the aisle are hoping for something not only quick but one both parties can agree on.
Lawmakers met in session this afternoon expected to discuss the substituted version of bill 269 better known as the budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015. With the passing of Senator Ben Pangelinan, Vice Speaker BJ Cruz is overseeing the Committee on Appropriations, and said, "It's fairly close - we've addressed all the three priorities of public safety, education and public health."
Cruz says while both public safety and public health are addressed in the same way, education for example, has not received everything the department has asked for. He says however, it is more than what was received last year and more than what the governor requested for. "The overall budget, the revenue came out more as far as the general revenue was, we determined it would be about a million and a half less of what the governor proposed but the overall budget revenue is actually up about $7 million," he said.
Cruz adds the Competitive Wage Act costs are covered along with an increase to COLA by $200 per retiree. As for some of the changes, in the governor's proposal the provision for tax refunds was at $118 million. Substituted Bill 269 instead has it at over $121 million or a $3.2 million increase. The General Fund total in the substituted version is at $644.9 million or $1.2 million less in Bill 269. As for the total revenues, the substituted version shows a total of $827.8 million or an increase of $7.3 million compared to the governor's proposal.
He said, "The reason for that is last week we received the budget from GVB 0213 and GVB informed us that they believe that in the current year they'll reach $32 million and they believe that next year, they'll be able to get to $36 million because the Dusit Thani and the Lotte (Hotel) will be open a full year."
Cruz adds along with the Tourist Attraction Fund, the Territorial Highway Fund and the Section 2718 Fund related to the medical loss ratio also attributed to the changes. And just as he hoped for a fairly quick process, so does Minority Leader Tony Ada. He said"We just got the budget before we went into session about 11 am this morning, the vice speaker forwarded it to us so we're getting this opportunity to recess and review the budget as presented to us."
And while we've seen bills added to the agenda without lawmakers even seeing them yet before, Ada says he's appreciative of the consideration by the majority, noting, "I hope this budget session comes out to be something that everyone can work with both the legislature and administration and comes out good for the government."
And while the budget was not discussed today, lawmakers did discuss Bill 385 that would appropriate funds to the Guam Office of Veterans Affairs to fulfill funding requirements for three approved veteran cemetery grants totaling $260,000. The bill was passed unanimously by lawmakers. Session meanwhile resumes tomorrow at 1pm.