Thursday, March 12, 2009

Can a Judge Raise Guam's Taxes?

For those who have been asking, there will be a walkout later this month, most likely led by the Guam Legislature, carried out in the hopes of getting the Federal Judge and the Federal Receiver to work with the Government of Guam in hopes of finding a way to close Ordot and open a new landfill, but without bankrupting the Government of Guam. I will have more updates as plans get settled, but for those who aren't sure what I'm talking about, here's a quick update.

The Federal Judge, Frances Tydingco-Gatewood ordered a Federal Receiver be hired last year in order to facilitate the swift closure of the Ordot Dump and the swift construction and opening of a new dump in Dandan. Different governors and legislatures on Guam had for various reasons over the past decade had stalled and deadlocked on this issue, and so Gatewood's order was considered by many to be a forceful but positive step. Since being established however the Federal Receiver GBB, has shown an unwillingness to work with the Government of Guam, and the most recent example of this is their requirement that the Government of Guam make weekly $1 million payments to them in order for them to do their jobs. For a government and an island already strapped for cash, this demand met with much resistance, disbelief and this resulted in requests to both the Federal Judge and GBB that they work out some sort of deal with the Government instead of just dictating these terms. According to BBR, in order to make this weekly payment, GovGuam would either have to across the board cut 10% out of each agency, or if essential agencies are protected, each non-essential agency would have to cut 30-40% of their budgets. The Federal Judge rejected these pleas and ordered GovGuam to do whatever GBB says.

The Guam Legislature responded by passing Bill 51 which offered alternatives to these $1 million a week payments and also prohibited the Governor or any Government of Guam official from making these payments with any money that wasn't approved by Bill 51. Right now, the Government of Guam and the Federal Government are arguing before the Federal Judge on this issue. GovGuam submitted their arguments yesterday, the Federal Government will do so on the 17th. The big issue right now is that the Federal Judge is asserting that she might have the rights to force GovGuam to make these payments, and she outlined five different ways in which she might have the power to make this happen. They are as follows:

(1) sequester or enjoin the use and/or obligation of Section 30 Funds and/or other federal monies (e.g., federal highway funds); (2) immediately close the Ordot Dump; (3) order the Government of Guam to raise revenue by increasing taxes and/or selling assets; (4) garnish territorial revenue streams; and (5) execute upon and/or attach Government of Guam accounts.

The idea of a Federal Judge raising Guam's taxes or forcing it to sell Chamorro Land Trust Property, or school buses, or even adding on another GRT, all of these things are items that surely deserve a protest. Regardless of where you come down on this issue, and feel that GovGuam screwed this one up, like it does all else, the tone of the Federal Judge now makes this everyone's issue. She has now all but asserted her and the Federal Government's right to dictate everything on this island.

Stay tuned for more as it develops and as plans become concrete. In the meantime I've posted some articles below for you to check out.

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The rise of nationalism
Guam leaders say history is repeating itself
Sunday, 08 March 2009
by Therese Hart
Variety News Staff

On March 6, 1949, local leaders led by Assemblymen Antonio B. Won Pat and Carlos P. Taitano made a historical move by walking out in protest of the Naval government’s refusal to recognize their authority and power to govern their island.

The lack of respect and the seemingly insensitive treatment of the federal government decades ago continue today, according to members of the Guam Legislature, who looked back to the island’s history and its implications today during a discussion held at a pavilion across the street from the federal court in Anigua.

Led by Speaker Judi Won Pat, who wanted to commemorate the historical event, island residents and leaders held dialogue on issues such as Guam’s political self determination, non-reimbursement of over $400 million in Compact Impact funds, the military buildup and recent island-federal issues such as the consent decree projects.

“What are the lessons that we can learn from our past leaders?” asked Won Pat, daughter of the late assemblyman. “That’s what this is all about and how can we carry forth the pioneering spirit they had that moved them to do what they knew was right for their people. It seems that by fate we are facing the same challenges today.”

Local resident Felix Aguon said the 1949 event happened before he was born, but he felt that the federal governor’s treatment of the local community then has not changed.

“Why are we where we are right now? Why are we being kicked around like sheep and dogs? We are U.S. citizens,” Aguon said. “We want respect. I think it’s time to find better dialogue between ourselves and the federal government.”

Federal lawsuits

Sen. Judi Guthertz said she felt that Guam was at a crossroads with the federal government since there are federal issues that are directly impacting the island. She mentioned, for example, the solid waste consent decree and the permanent injunction imposed on the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse and the Department of Integrated Services for Individuals with Disabilities.

“I believe the Guam Legislature should go to court to challenge the District Court depending on the decision the judge makes on March 17,” said Guthertz.

“If the judge decides to go forward and force the issue of grabbing the $1 million a week to give the receiver in a bank account, then we need to go to court and challenge that authority of the federal court,” she added.

One subject that needs to be addressed is Guam’s political status, according to activist and former senator Hope Cristobal.

“The walk out happened 60 years ago and today in the 21st century, we are still being strong-armed by the federal government. I really would like to encourage a walkout with the legislature because we need to show the federal government that 60 years later,” Cristobal said. “We are diminishing, population, and we are losing our ability to maximize our existence in our own homeland through real self government.”

Definition of powers

Former Lt. Gov. Frank Blas Sr. dialogued with the group and brought up the fact that Guam leaders must define exactly what powers it has and its relationship with the U.S. and to its people.

“I share the decision to be very definitive of who we are and what we are as a people. We need to define what kind of power we have and in terms of how to deal with a sovereign power,” Blas said.

“I support and I believe the walkout was done for the right reason. We need to know how much authority we have and relate it to how we can govern our island. There’s the concept of One Guam; Team Guam. I think that’s what needs to be accomplished,” he added.

Activist Jonathan Diaz said that he believed that the government of Guam is powerless.

“To me, there is no such thing as self-government in Guam. The federal government is trying to separate the land from the people. It is their strategic prerogative to go in and take over,” he said.

“All they have to do is define their strategic prerogative, and that’s it. There’s no such thing as sovereignty in Micronesia,” Diaz added.

Sen. Frank Blas Jr., said it’s time for Guam to ask for a stronger voice in Congress.

“Our people walked out on a government that refused to see them as equal,” Blas said. “We talk about a representative that has no voting power. We want a seat in Congress. We want a seat in the Senate. Our citizenship was conferred upon us by a congressional act, not by the U.S. Constitution. At the whim of Congress, they can take away our citizenship,” said Blas.

Won Pat said Friday’s peaceful demonstration was just a start and she expects more dialogues to continue as Guam faces a far reaching change that will determine the future of Guam.

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60 years later, feds still lord over people of Guam
By Victoria-Lola M. Leon Guerrero
March 6, 2009
The Pacific Daily News

On March 5, 1949, members of the Guam Congress made history for resisting federal control over local governance. They adjourned their session and walked out on the premise that the people of Guam deserved the right to govern themselves. They made international headlines and helped the island attain some form of self-government with the Organic Act.

At the time of the walkout, Guam was under naval rule and the local government had no real power to govern the people. "Let us not hide behind doors, but let us come right out and tell our people that we cannot do things they wish, because we have somebody to tell us what to do," said then-Congressman Frank D. Perez on the day of the walkout.

Sixty years later, we sit idle as the history they fought repeats itself.

We have a federal judge ordering our local government to spend $1 million a week on the landfill, while two high schools share one campus, our only hospital struggles to meet the needs of its patients and our government employees live with the fear of looming pay cuts, payless paydays and layoffs.

We are also expected to meet the demands of the federal government as it expands its military presence on our island -- a decision that was made without our consent. This military buildup will make the native Chamorro people an extreme minority in our homeland, where we still haven't exercised our human right to self-determination.

And with construction for the buildup set to begin in a just over a year, our community is left with a long list of unanswered questions. At the top of the list is exactly how much money and resources will the people of Guam sacrifice to accommodate the infrastructural strain of a massive population boom and increased military presence?

As our island constantly takes on the burden of supporting the military and following federal orders, what do we lose in the process? Aren't we, the people of Guam, worthy of the dignity and right to govern ourselves and decide our future?

The recent battle over the landfill proves that the federal government still assumes it has ultimate control over the island. The federal judge stated in her order earlier this week that the federal court could have the power to raise our taxes and sell our assets, including the Chamorro Land Trust properties we fought hard for.

In response to the federal judge's statements, Speaker Judith Won Pat accurately made the connection to our history. "The court's actions remind me of the day(s) of the naval government, where we had no rights whatsoever," said the speaker.

During the days of the naval government, it was made explicit that the interests of the military would always take precedence over the needs of the people of Guam. For example, in a 1946 naval report to Washington it was written that, "The economic development (of Guam) must be geared to meet the demands of (Navy) service and service connected personnel, and cannot be geared to the financial, technical, or business ability of the Guamanian entrepreneur."

As the military buildup plays out, it is not hard to see how this is still the case. What worries me is that not enough people are making the historical connection, or fighting against it. In the case of the landfill, the governor has shown a clear lack of leadership as his office publicly ponders what to follow: local law or federal orders.

In order for us to change our fate, we must fight for our right to govern ourselves. It is time to follow in the bold footsteps taken by the Guam Congress 60 years ago, and celebrate the parts of our history that obligate us to fight for our land and our people. We must support leaders who are determined to put our island first, and not allow our people to be taken advantage of any longer.

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