There is growing concern in Guam’s business community that the much anticipated buildup of Marines here might not happen at all.  Or if it does happen, in 2021 or 2022, the number of Marines who actually transfer here will be less than 3,000, rather than the 8,000 originally forecast.  The Marines are downsizing, after all.

The buildup has already slowed down.  First expected to be completed by 2014, the Defense Authorization Act of 2011 has now pushed that deadline out five more years, to 2019.   The mood of austerity in the U.S. Congress, coupled with the inability of the Government of Japan to move forward on the re-location of the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, are giving rise to speculation the transfer to Guam could be affected.  The U.S. position is not a single Marine moves until Futenma moves.

Congress, for its part, is looking for a hundred billion dollars in savings.  They are likely to look at planned spending on Guam as a place to cut if Japan can’t get its act together.

Japan is having difficulty putting together a coalition that will support a funding authorization including money for the Futenma move, which is not popular on Okinawa.  Any funding bill which does not include money for the air base relocation will anger the United States.  In fact, one news story out of Japan suggests if the Japanese Diet doesn’t grant the funding to move the air station it will “infuriate” Washington.

Add to this a growing perception within the U.S. Department of Defense and Congress that Guam doesn’t really want this military buildup, and you’ve got a lot of people worried that this deal may yet get screwed up.  We’re talking about a level of military activity, and corresponding funding, that insures Guam’s economy for nearly the rest of this century.

Previous surveys done by the Chamber of Commerce found approval of the buildup at around the 80 percent level.  Yet the continuing disagreement over the use of Pagat is giving some officials the idea that Guam, at least as expressed through its more vocal Senators, is not on board.  

At least one Chamber member with whom we spoke last week thinks the business community should circulate petitions and mount a people’s initiative, up or down, on the buildup.  Such an initiative could go on the 2012 ballot, which might be too late, but the mere fact of circulating such petitions would send the desired message.   There is no perceptible opposition to the buildup among Guam business owners and investors.   

Governor Eddie Calvo travels to Washington at the end of this month.  He should sign the stalled Programmatic Agreement before or during his trip, and move this buildup along.

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