After having provided the public with a valuable service by gathering information and releasing a comprehensive report on the legal bills government of Guam departments and agencies have racked up in recent years – costing at least $64 million – we ask the Guam Office of Public Accountability to find time to scrutinize and then release information on government of Guam expenses related to parties, including catered food, canopy/tent rentals, entertainment and other party-related accessories.
The OPA can look at a snapshot in time, perhaps the first year or eight months of the Leon Guerrero administration and a corresponding time frame in the previous Calvo administration.
While we recognize Guam OPA's staffing number and budget are limited, we hope this can be a priority in light of the mixed signals we're getting from our elected officials on whether GovGuam can continue to sustain a budget that puts more and more pressure on taxpayers and ratepayers but lacks substantial efforts on the government's part to reduce unnecessary spending.
We offer, as examples, two events within a few hours Friday. Certain senators in leadership positions, including budget-writing committee Chairman Joe San Agustin, quickly shut down yet another proposal to reduce the business privilege tax by 25%, which would have provided an avenue for across-the-board relief on prices of consumer goods. Certain senators, by the way, keep calling this a "1%" tax hike when the increase in the business privilege tax from 4% to 5% is a whopping 25% jump.
The legislative majority cited rules they established at the beginning of the budget session as a reason not to entertain the proposal that would have helped taxpayers cope with the island's rising cost of living. The senators are capable of changing rules whenever an issue hits their soft spot – so their inflexibility on the tax-reduction proposal is telling.
Several hours after the legislative session recessed on Friday, there was a party at Government House, attended by more than 100 in GovGuam to celebrate what was described as a successful 75th Liberation Day commemoration. There were massive tents that cost hundreds of dollars to rent, food on heated catering trays and a band playing as partygoers spilled into the outdoors. A fireworks display launched next door to the party helped to cap the night. We don't have a full picture yet on who paid for these party spending items.
Mayors' Council of Guam Executive Director Angel Sablan deferred to Sinajana Mayor Robert Hofmann when The Guam Daily Post inquired about costs associated with the party. Hofmann described the party as a potluck event.
If any government funds and other taxpayer resources were spent on the party Friday night, and if it wasn't entirely a potluck event, that information needs to be disclosed to the public.
Elected officials' refusal to budge on the tax hike on one hand and on the other hand partying in a government facility – complete with a fireworks display – has a ring of tone-deafness to the hardships our taxpayers and consumers are experiencing and have been experiencing for a while now.
GovGuam is known for using public money for food and beverage during office and agency parties, including for ribbon-cutting and other office-related celebratory events.
We, the public, want to know what kind of tab we've been paying. If there's an agency that deserves a funding boost it is our watchdog agency – Public Auditor Benjamin Cruz's public accountability office.