THE hotly debated Omnibus Spending Cuts Bill 507-31 was amended by the Legislature at a public hearing last night, removing sections which would drastically cut Guam Fire Department personnel pay and sections that would reduce military leave, cut overtime pay (to include annual and sick leave), and repeal incentive pay.
Before the public hearing, during a press conference held yesterday morning, Gov. Eddie Calvo already said that these controversial sections of the spending cuts bill would not be included.
But the governor also firmly stated he would not withdraw the bill and he urged the Legislature to find ways to solve budget issues and get the budget to match. "They have consistently put roadblocks in our fiscal stability plan,” Calvo lamented.
The governor also expressed disagreement with Sen. Benjamin Cruz who discussed rewriting the bill. Calvo said he would not go along with such “political shenanigans.”
The governor also stated that several senators had voted for a budget in 2010 that is the cause of many of the financial issues going on today.
If the $71 million required to distribute tax refunds is not met, Calvo warned there may be reductions in the workforce and government services.
At the discussions held at the Legislature last night, senators agreed to strike the controversial sections from the bill. Cruz accepted the motion that was made by Sen. Rory Respicio and seconded by Speaker Judi Won Pat. The motion was unanimously passed.
At the hearing, GFD Chief Joey San Nicolas was on-hand to explain the various cost-saving measures put forth to increase revenue enhancement as well as other creative ways to run the department more cost-efficiently.
San Nicolas said he had proposed different shifts, going from a two-platoon system to a three-platoon system. However, due to the Fair Labor Standards Acts, a certain ratio of employees, which amounts to four personnel for each unit, must be maintained.
In addition, San Nicolas said the 24-hour shift which is in place, compared to the eight-hour shift, is a cost-saving measure in itself because it decreases the amount of overtime.
“The simple fact is that we offer a 24-hour service. Someone has to work those hours,” the chief stated.
For his part, Sen. Respicio expressed disbelief at the actions of the governor. “If he were sincere about the commitment he would withdraw the bill, make all the changes, and resubmit it to the Legislature,” Respicio said. “I wouldn’t say leave it to somebody else to do the job I’m probably not going to do today.”
It wasn’t until after the testimony of Capt. Ed Mendiola, who had brought his two children, 9 and 11 years old, to the Legislature, which prompted the lawmakers to make the motion to remove the sections.
“Ask my kids how many birthdays, Christmases, or Thanksgivings I ever spent with them, and they could probably count it on their hand,” Mendiola said as he described the challenges of being a supervisor and being “Mr. Mom.”
Mendiola stressed if there needed to be cuts, the cuts should come from every agency.
“Everyone in GovGuam should lose the same amount I’m gonna lose. Let’s make it all fair. I’m not here to bicker about what’s going on in the law. I know what’s going on,” Mendiola said.
He added: “Look at those two kids all of you. Look at those two kids and you tell them why is your dad like that? I can accept the cut. Cut me if you want. But make sure you are fair. We didn’t get this government in debt. None of the government of Guam employees did. The problem now is how do we get out.”