THREE decades ago, two governors from two different parties led Guam. They had different political ideals, philosophies and styles of governance when it came to leadership. Despite their differences, the late Governor Ricardo J. Bordallo and my father, Governor Paul Calvo, knew that at the end of the day, nothing mattered more than serving the people of Guam.
Their administrations were not governed by rules of the party or by majority opinions. Governor Bordallo and Governor Calvo understood that the only true voice of leadership is that of the people. It’s simple. If you listen to the people, you’ll know their needs. And if you truly care about their needs, your next steps and decisions as a leader will be clear. That was what blurred the lines between a Democrat and a Republican. Those distinctions didn’t matter; the people mattered.
We’re here three decades later, at an historic time, contemplating an historic decision. For 20 years, the government of Guam has been unable to live within its means. Instead of cutting costs, it has used your tax refunds money to pay for itself. Today, the government owes you nearly $300 million. By next year, it will owe you closer to $400 million. Everything past due is accumulating at a compounded interest rate.
We have the chance to wipe out this deficit and transfer it to long-term, manageable, low-interest debt. More importantly, we have the chance to pay you your tax refunds, then ensure we never again form the habit of paying these refunds late.
The bond I am proposing to the Legislature will do this. If it’s passed this month, we will pay you all your refunds by December. On top of that, there will be money in the bank to pay your refunds next year. That cash deposit to the tax refunds account is something that hasn’t happened in a very long time.
This is a good plan. Contrary to all the rhetoric, this government can afford it. The financial experts analyzed this and said so. The numbers say so and they don’t lie. What the government can’t afford is a whopping $311 million deficit of tax refunds that remains as a current debt. More importantly, the people owed these refunds can’t afford to wait any longer for their own money.
Paying the people their tax refunds is neither a Republican issue nor a Democrat issue. It is the duty and responsibility of the collective leadership to find the opportunities to pay back to the people what is rightfully theirs. We have no right to hold their money. They are entitled to it now. The method of financing this debt is subject to debate. But there are things that are not up for debate. People are dying, waiting for their money. These overdue tax refunds are an obligation this government needs to pay. This debt will not go away on its own. This government needs to make amends for the sins of the past.
To my colleagues on the Republican side of the Legislature: Thank you for wanting to pay the refunds – in full, immediately. I appreciate how you’ve been fighting for our people struggling, suffering and begging for their own money.
To my colleagues on the Democrat side of the Legislature: I know not all of you support the bond I proposed. You’ve raised valid concerns. I’ve answered your concerns. It is my hope that the non-partisan call I have made, and the tough questions I have answered, have convinced two or three of you to support paying the tax refunds. It is not a plan that belongs only to me. It is not a Republican roadmap. It is an initiative for the people. At the end of the day, your vote in favor of paying $311 million in tax refunds now will mean a victory for the people owed these refunds.
With such an historic opportunity before us, I tend to look back to the example of bipartisanship two political rivals and friends named Ricky Bordallo and Paul Calvo set three decades ago. I was a young man in those days. I sincerely ask myself, ‘If this was their decision, and they governed at this time, with the same circumstances facing our people, what would they do? Would they be fighting, or would they be uniting?’ I think the answer is simple, when you consider they were both statesmen and gentlemen. They would not have been fighting with each other. One would not see the other as a member of the opposite party. They would have united and fought for the people, together. Their love for the people would have meant everything.
What makes us strong is our ability to step outside the lines so we can do something great for our people. Let’s join together in that old spirit of Inafa’ Maolek. God bless you.