A recent proposal to tap into the Tourist Attraction Fund has given us whiplash.
Legislative Speaker Tina Muña Barnes recently introduced an amendment to the 2019 budget law that would require the Guam Visitors Bureau to allocate $650,000 from TAF to 19 nonprofit community organizations.
Bill 153-35 would change the word "may" to "shall" in the 2019 budget law, restoring the prior practice of using TAF revenues for nonprofits, which was removed in the 2019 budget law in an effort to reduce spending.
Bill 153 is a consolidation of 15 related spending bills the speaker introduced in April. Yes, you read that right – 15 bills.
TAF is the government of Guam’s largest special fund. It brings in more than $40 million annually from the 11% hotel occupancy tax.
We are concerned about the disagreement over the use of TAF funding.
In an emailed response to The Guam Daily Post for an April story, GVB Vice President Bobby Alvarez said lawmakers in the 34th Guam Legislature "agreed nonprofit organizations should not depend on the TAF to fund their operations on an annual basis."
He added that under the current budget law, "the only way the nonprofits would get money is applying for GVB’s grant program, which can approve up to $10,000 in grants," Alvarez said.
Lawmakers need to get to the bottom of the disagreement because TAF is critical to Guam’s top industry and job creator. TAF is used not only for GVB operations but also for capital improvement projects that benefit visitors and residents.
We understand that nonprofits could use TAF funding, but the speaker should not rush the issue as it conflicts with a previous agreement to reduce spending.
Meanwhile, GVB must weigh in on Bill 153 as it knows best how TAF should be used to grow the island’s visitor industry.
With so much at stake, lawmakers must ensure that TAF is used fairly and prudently. They shouldn't veer from one possible funding mechanism to another. They should take a steady approach to not only using TAF but also protecting Guam's major economic driver.