Editor’s note: Mayor Jessy Gogue explains why he did not sign the Mayors’ Council of Guam letter – which almost all other mayors signed – to maintain the gross receipts tax increase from 4% to 5%.
The reason why I did not sign the referenced letter is that this request from the Mayors’ Council of Guam also came to me during the period I was sick, and I would not sign something I did not have time to properly review and research if necessary.
Having said this, I probably would not have signed this letter anyway, since I believe there is merit to rolling the BPT back from 5% to 4%. I know the impact that this has on small businesses, since I was in the private sector during an earlier move by GovGuam to raise the business privilege tax, commonly called the Gross Receipts Tax. Had there been an indefinite period of time associated with the prior increase, I would have raised the cost of goods in my retail business to absorb this increase. But when the prior tax increase was implemented, the time frame of the increase was defined and short term. Therefore, I allowed my business to absorb the increase rather than passing it on to my customers.
There are other ways to pay for things that villages need
As it pertains to our village funding needs, I believe that there are other means of generating revenues that we desperately need. For example, the Mayors’ Council of Guam has been slow in moving forward with establishing a legislatively approved fee schedule for the use of our government facilities. Therefore, when maintenance is performed on our facilities, it is absorbed into the funds that are appropriated to us out of the General Fund. When it comes to our parks, there are restrictions on charging fees to youth groups and organizations that use our fields and courts – even if the tournaments played in our facilities receive payment from the participating teams. Accordingly, the cost of repairing wear and tear – and oftentimes intentional damage – throughout our facilities is eventually paid for by the General Fund. Therefore, we have to ask ourselves: Can the General Fund continue to absorb these maintenance and repair costs in the years ahead, without a revenue-generating funding source to pay for these expenses?
It’s hard to justify pay raises when people’s basic needs aren’t being met
While I listen to comments from the community regarding the government functions that aren’t being performed, and the response by the government that many of these functions or mandates can’t be fully met because of a lack of funding, I do believe that members of our community’s complaints have merit.
In fact, I am often challenged when discussing with my constituents the increases of salaries among a random number of executives throughout the government of Guam while stray dogs, littering, potholes along our roads, water leaks, vegetation touching power lines, and other long-term concerns continue to plague our island.
Right now, there really isn’t enough money to do everything
But even if these raises were not given, I believe that there is merit to GovGuam’s position that funding is substantially inadequate in meeting all of our mandates and the many expectations that the community places on its government and more specifically, its mayors.
Consider the following:
• Should mayors/GPD stop providing resources to support convoys on our roads during funerals?
• Should mayors stop allowing residents to borrow government equipment such as canopies, chairs, tables, and so on, to support funerals, rosaries, and other family/community functions?
• Should mayors discontinue hosting non-government organizations and supporting their requests to use our facilities?
Should I have said “No” to Guam Animals In Need when the nonprofit arranged to use our community center for its recent spay and neuter outreach? Given all that we do, there are no fees charged for our services or the use of our facilities and our equipment. When GAIN used our community center for its spay and neuter outreach, we absorbed the cost of power and water and any facility maintenance needed during this event.
One option: Lower the BPT and raise property taxes instead
Given my opinion regarding the use of BPT to address GovGuam’s funding shortfalls, I believe one of the more appropriate ways to address these shortfalls is by applying a real review and appropriate assessment of our property taxes, which can also be mandated by law to fund specific areas of our government: education, law enforcement, fire response and prevention, infrastructure repairs and improvements, and other mandates specifically defined by law. However, when there are efforts made to implement a possible increase in property taxes, it appears that there are similar complaints from sectors of our community who strongly oppose the raising of property taxes.
BPT hike hits hard those who can least afford a tax increase
A property tax increase impacts those who can afford to own property and build structures on their property. A BPT increase affects even those who cannot afford to own a home and/or who may be on some form of public assistance. Those living on a fixed income such as a retirement pension are likely eligible for the senior citizens property tax discount, and I believe that any increase in their property taxes for the home they live in would be nominal. And, if an increase in property taxes affects senior citizens’ rental properties, I am fairly certain that they would make an adjustment to their rental fee, to absorb any approved property tax increase.
Keep the liquid fuels tax; it’s helping fix our village roads
As for Sen. James Moylan’s effort to roll back the increase in our liquid fuels tax, I oppose it. As mayors, we have seen the merits of this additional funding, which is currently used to bring about lasting repairs to our village roads.
And as long as the Department of Public Works maintains true stewardship over these liquid fuels tax funds and spends them as the law requires, they can remain the funding source for the remaining village road repairs, which were estimated to cost $746 million in 2009.
Until I am provided with Sen. Moylan’s proposal on how to cover the $746 million cost of repairing our village roads, the liquid fuels tax implemented for this purpose should remain in effect.
Jessy Gogue is the mayor of Chalan Pago and Ordot