Vote on 2020 budget set for Saturday night

ON-TIME BUDGET: Finance committee Chairman Sen. Joe San Agustin issued a statement Wednesday morning expressing confidence that the Legislature will pass the fiscal 2020 budget before the Aug. 31 deadline. Post file photo

Guam lawmakers Thursday completed their review of the 2020 spending plan and moved Bill 186-35 to the voting file ahead of schedule.

Doubts were raised at the start of debate last week when some senators questioned whether they could meet the Aug. 31 deadline to pass the budget.

However, lawmakers managed to plow through the 145-page document and tack on more than 100 amendments, and amendments to amendments, over the course of just six weekdays.

Following a slow start, the pace picked up noticeably on Wednesday.

By Thursday morning, it moved quickly as finance committee Chairman Sen. Joe San Agustin brought the gavel down in rapid order. Section after section, the spending plan was approved without objection or amendment.

Shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday, senators rose from the Committee of the Whole. Speaker Tina Muña Barnes announced that it would take until Saturday night for the bill, with all of its amendments and corrections, to be placed in its final form and reviewed for errors.

The vote on the 2020 budget is set for 9:55 p.m. Saturday.

The bill projects the following key revenue figures for the 2020 fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1:

• Total available General Fund revenue: $803.6 million

• Total available for GovGuam operations: $678.6 million

• Total income taxes: $276.9 million

• Total business privilege taxes: $300 million

• Tax refund provision: $125 million

• Rainy-day fund: $13.1 million

The rules laid out by San Agustin at the start of the session on the budget kept the revenue numbers unchanged throughout the debate, allowing the session to stay on track.

Any amendment that proposed an increase or a decrease in the appropriation of funds had to be accompanied by a corresponding offset or funding source, said San Agustin.

That bar blocked Sen. James Moylan’s effort to roll back the business privilege tax to 4% from 5% now. 

But it did not prevent Sen. Telena Nelson from winning approval to transfer $1 million from the proposed budget for the Judiciary to the Guam Department of Education.

Sen. Therese Terlaje was also able to get approval for her amendment to lock away $10 million in excess 2019 income and business privilege tax revenue into a newly created Hospital Capital Improvement Fund.

Terlaje failed in her move to cut $424,345 from the Guam Legislature's budget and appropriate the funding to the Guam Memorial Hospital for medical equipment and supplies including an anesthesia machine and dialysis machine. It was ruled out of order. The amendment was co-sponsored by Sens. Amanda Shelton and Sabina Perez.

Other amendments include:

• Authorizing the governor to use any remaining lapsed funds from this fiscal year to hire more corrections officers.

• Allowing the Guam Visitors Bureau to keep any excess collection of hotel occupancy taxes.

• Permitting retired attorneys to be hired at the Judiciary and the Public Defender's office.

• Compensating Guam Parole Board members $250 for each meeting they attended, not to exceed $1,000 a month.

• Restoring hiring restrictions on unclassified employees, with the exception of doctors, nurses, teachers and other priority employees.

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