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Republicans and Democrat governor spar over how to spend $661 million

By Johnnie Rosario

Imagine your dad gives your mom $1 million for Christmas and tells her she can spend it however she'd like, but it has to benefit the family. She starts to tell the family her general thoughts on where she'd spend that money. Then, your brothers and sisters jump all over her with what they consider to be a better way to spend.

In this peachy-keen scenario, Congressman Michael San Nicolas is the dad, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero is the mom, and the kids are Republican senators.

In the not-too-distant future, the federal government will deposit $661 million into the Guam treasury, compliments of Mr. San Nicolas's hard work for the island. And Ms. Leon Guerrero will get to use that money without ever having to ask the Legislature's permission.

The governor has signaled her general spending list, though her office has not yet released specifics. In her state of the island address last week, and in public comments she has made, the governor said she will use the money to:

  • Build a new public hospital

  • Get "money into the hands of the people

  • Help small businesses and nonprofits "keep their doors open."

These federal funds are a much welcome infusion for our economy and stability, and before funds are quietly expended on contracts and political hires, we felt it would be irresponsible if a percentage of these funds were not placed directly into the hands of island residents," Republican senators Jim Moylan, Tony Ada, and Chris Duenas said in a written statement. "This would be through increasing their disposable income, creating new jobs, encouraging financial independence, providing needed assistance, and injecting economic activity. These investments will essentially get Guam moving towards recovery.

The U.S. Treasury gave Ms. Leon Guerrero about $118 million in CARES Act (the first federal stimulus) funds last year. The use of those monies - on an array of contracts and for encumbrances yet to be disclosed to the public - has been under intense public scrutiny. Criticism and curiosity led to the passage of a law over the governor's veto by Speaker Therese Terlaje requiring reports of the spending.

Ms. Terlaje has sent several unanswered letters to the administration about its failure to comply with the law.

Mr. San Nicolas is so serious about the administration not squandering this money, he all but promised to run against the governor if she doesn't put the money to good use for the people.

The administration, meanwhile, has defended its record. Governor's spokeswoman Krystal Paco-San Agustin has previously told Kandit the funds are being spent properly.

The Republican senators don't trust the governor's record. They are introducing six pieces of legislation that, as a package, they dub a "true economic recovery plan... as part of their 'Let's Get Guam Moving Initiative.'"

  1. The first bill will amend the RISE Act and increase the local stimulus payout - which is now three months belated - from $800 per person to $1,000 per person. In other words, the working family will get peanuts compared to the rest of the package.

  2. The second bill, "The Displaced Employee Workforce Incentive Act of 2021 (DEWI) would appropriate funds into a grant program to create hundreds of full-time private sector jobs."

  3. "The Business Startup Incubation Act of 2021 (BSI) would create a grant program to create new small businesses and encourage financial independence."

  4. "The Para I Publiku Act of 2021 (PIP) would establish a debit card program, provided to eligible island residents to spend at local business establishments, and to inject $30,000,000 into Guam’s economy."

  5. "The Guam Home Energy Assistance Act of 2021 (HEAP) would create a local grant assistance program to provide support for eligible residents with utility payments and energy costs."

  6. "The Atkilón Guma’ Assistance Act of 2021 (AGA) would create a local grant assistance program to provide support for eligible residents with home rentals."

If some of these programs sound familiar, it's because they should be. They either already are federal programs secured by Mr. San Nicolas, or local programs the governor already has proposed, albeit, what does it hurt to get more money and assistance into people's hands?

The governor was offended, and took the opportunity to point out that the Republicans are stealing her ideas.

“All the programs introduced by Senators Moylan, Ada, and Duenas are already in place.
"Not once did the sponsoring senators pick up the phone to discuss their ideas and work to find common ground. Contrary to what these authors say, they do not actually want to work together. They have not considered the work that is currently being done by this Administration to help our people. They have not consulted with identified agencies on these initiatives. Quite frankly these bills are about politics, not progress.
"Our Administration has been very clear about the priorities for the funding authorized under the American Rescue Plan—getting money into the hands of our people, helping small businesses and nonprofits keep their doors open, and building a new hospital—initiatives we are already working on. These senators seem to have taken notes during the State of the Island and added their own titles.”

Merry Christmas, Guam. Our elected leaders are about to get $661 million to spend on us. It will be interesting to see whether the thousands of us will each get thousands in relief, or whether the few of us will just become richer millionaires.

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