It has been years since the Guam Department of Education has had a budget of less than $200 million. And yet, if Bill 184-35 passes into law, the island’s public school system will have to cope with just over half of the amount GDOE says is necessary to meet the needs of about 30,000 students.
GDOE asked for $343 million for fiscal year 2020, which begins Oct. 1. However, the budget proposed by the Legislature gives the department $199 million.
About $10 million was shaved off the GDOE budget for charter schools, which now have a separate budget. However, even after factoring in the charter school budget, GDOE still would be short of this year’s $230 million budget by $20 million and come nowhere near GDOE’s request.
The proposed budget from the Legislature’s Office of Finance and Budget also reduces the Department of Public Health and Social Services budget by almost $10 million.
That’s roughly a $30 million reduction in spending for GDOE and Public Health combined.
And that’s set against a backdrop where government officials are saying there’s a positive outlook for Guam’s economic future. Bill 184 acknowledges that outlook with a fiscal 2020 budget revenue projection of $945 million, which is $10 million higher than the current budget law.
So where’s this money going if not to the agencies to which we entrust our island’s future and health?
Not public safety, according to this proposed budget. The island’s public safety agencies, including the Department of Corrections, Department of Youth Affairs, Guam Fire Department and Guam Police Department, face an overall $2 million budget cut in the Legislature's version of the fiscal 2020 budget bill. GPD received a slight increase from its current budget to the proposed budget, from $34.13 million to $34.78 million. GFD saw a decrease, from $32.23 million for fiscal 2019 to a proposed $32.19 million for fiscal 2020. DOC saw a larger decrease from $26.25 million to $23.52 million.
Guam’s taxpayers face a higher burden in taxes but are seeing less in return for their money when it comes to the core government services.
Elected leaders must reduce budgets in other areas of government and truly prioritize education, public safety and health.
This cannot just be an election year narrative — like a recording for which candidates push the play button during the campaign season and then pause when the people’s work needs to be done.
While we don’t disagree with taking the Public Library System and the Hagåtña Restoration and Redevelopment Authority from the umbrella of Department of Chamorro Affairs, there is an added cost to doing that.
Additionally, some senators are pushing for legislation to fund nongovernment organizations that promote arts and humanities — while we have some questions on how these organizations are vetted and chosen to receive that funding, we believe the intent is good. However, the added cost is something that senators must consider.
The Legislature and Adelup must take a closer look at what the island community needs vs. what some people want.
We need a functioning public safety network. We need schools that educate our children in a safe and clean learning environment. And we need a public health system that can keep our families healthy and save lives in emergencies.
Once those needs are met, then perhaps we can consider other things.