Without question, it is part of the Guam governor's job to travel, particularly to Washington, D.C., so that we can establish connections with the policymakers in the nation's capital.
There might also be occasions when the governor will lend a higher level of importance to a government of Guam trade mission or a Guam delegation trying to get more buy-in from a fledgling tourism market.
But elected and appointed officials should also not trick taxpayers with a pitch that all travels paid for with GovGuam funds or federal funds are necessary. An example of this would be the trips certain mayors made to mango and strawberry festivals in the Philippines. Those trips weren't justified – and these mayors can do us all a favor by not pretending that they were.
There are unnecessary publicly funded travels – and history has shown that certain officials in a position to get paid trips on the public checkbook have found creative ways to find "official" conferences as a justification for the travel. There have been times when these conferences also happen to be near an area where family members reside, the officials' children attend college or where a family vacation can be annexed to the official travel.
We're not saying this is what's going on in the early months of Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero's administration, but we're beginning to see actions related to travel that might not be the best use of government resources – at a time when taxpayers are struggling to cope with a higher cost of living on Guam as a result of tax increases, utility cost increases and health care, food, housing and gasoline price increases.
Last year, taxpayers were made to believe that tax increases were necessary because the government of Guam was facing a financial crisis. Earlier in this administration, there have been proposals to roll back some of the tax increases to give taxpayers relief, but these proposals have gone nowhere – in contrast to the speedy approvals of special-interest legislation such as for the recreational marijuana promoters and gambling operators that want to bid for Liberation Carnival gambling operations.
In The Guam Daily Post's reporting Tuesday and today, there have been publicly funded travels that taxpayers can reasonably question as maybe not that necessary.
Do taxpayers really need to pay for 33 days of travel in a span of less than five months for governor's Chief of Staff Anthony Babauta – 15 days of which was labeled as a "meet and greet" with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Pacific area office in Honolulu, and having to attend the National Pandemic Summit in Nebraska? Or do taxpayers agree with thousands of dollars spent on senior adviser and former Gov. Carl Gutierrez's and other GovGuam-paid travelers' trip to Las Vegas to attend an economic "opportunity zone" conference being hosted at the Mandalay Bay resort and casino?
It's up to taxpayers to decide.
But one thing's clear: The administration can't have it both ways by continuing to justify keeping the tax increases and at the same time paying for or sending officials on travels that are not all that necessary.