Sunday, August 25, 2013

Ben's Pen

$18M savings turned down by lieutenant governor and governor:

 The elephant in the room


Senator Ben Pangelinan
Published in Marianas Variety
August 22, 2013



WHAT we have seen over the past week during budget discussions is a desperate attempt by the Republican governor and senators to cover up what is truly a travesty of epic proportions, which is the governor’s intent and selection of a non-exclusive health insurance contract for GovGuam employees and retirees that costs all taxpayers $18 million more than an exclusive contract, which the governor just last year said is the best way to go and recommended by health insurance actuarial experts.

The Guam Legislature recently passed the FY2014 budget ahead of the deadline of Aug. 31, which has apparently shaken up the governor to the point of his endorsement of an all out propaganda war to try and draw attention away from the health insurance injustice and to discredit a budget plan that increases the amount of cash set aside to pay tax refunds, funds salary increases for government employees that he just asked for last week, and restores the cost of living adjustment (COLA) payment to retirees back to its previous level.

The governor initially requested that the Legislature amend the budget bill to fund the Hay Study pay raises, the ones which he rescinded as one of his first official acts in office. He said fund them with the $11 million from the 2 percent reserve. When the Democrats did just that, and provided $10.9 million, he said that it was too much and he wanted to have a phased-in approach, which essentially equates to allowing him to unilaterally choose which departments and agencies get paid first. What we have seen in the recent past is his unequal and unfair approach to paying merit bonuses to only those agencies under his purview, leaving out the thousands of teachers and employees at the Guam Department of Education and the Unified Courts of Guam. Furthermore, he has yet to release the funds to the GDOE for their retroactive increments that he announced would be paid several months ago. The Legislature wanted to prevent this unfair and unequal treatment from occurring again.

In addition to saying that the Hay Study appropriation in the substituted budget bill is too much, the governor also says that he believes restoring the COLA to its previous levels for our man'åmko’ is too much. What I say is that $18 million is too much to pay for a non-exclusive health insurance contract, when you can have the same plan for $18 million less. It is that plain and simple. If the governor believes there is not enough money to support the payment of Hay Study pay raises for GovGuam employees and COLA for GovGuam retirees, he has the ability to save $18 million through signing an exclusive health insurance contract.

The Republican senators continue to attempt to draw attention away from this apparent waste of taxpayer money through creating artificial controversy on a good budget passed by the Democrats. I want to let all GovGuam employees and retirees know what effect the governor’s decision to increase costs to the taxpayers by $18 million on a non-exclusive health insurance contract has on their pockets:

Estimates based on the official memo (http://tinyurl.com/lw8vrxh) sent to the Legislature by the GovGuam Negotiating Team (GGNT), active GovGuam employees enrolled in the 1500 plan would enjoy an annual savings in medical and dental insurance of a minimum of $220 for Class I, up to $891 for Class IV. GovGuam retirees enrolled in the 1500 plan would realize an annual savings in medical and dental insurance of a minimum of $351 for Class I, up to $1,394 for Class IV with an additional savings for those retirees with Medicare coverage having 100 percent of their premium costs covered in the exclusive plan.

The taxpayers can save over $14 million dollars in GovGuam contributions, which they pay for with their taxes.

What is the governor’s rationale in preventing these types of savings from going into the pockets of our GovGuam employees and retirees as well as all taxpayers? Is the governor simply hiding behind this notion of providing choice to GovGuam employees and retirees at a cost of $18 million to the taxpayers of Guam? I believe it is an incorrect presumption that GovGuam employees and retirees would agree to pay $18 million more to have choice.

The GovGuam employees and retirees and the taxpayers of Guam must voice their concerns and question the choice made by the governor because it is their money that is at stake. I truly think that the real reason why the Republican senators continue to remain silent and attempt to cover-up the governor’s choice in health insurance is because of the toxic consequences of not supporting the governor.

Nevertheless, the law requires the most economical and beneficial health insurance plan to be negotiated for all GovGuam employees’ and retirees’ families and not the most economical and beneficial choice for just one family. I urge all the Republican senators in the room to discard the elephant masks and reconsider their actions, for the sake of the people of Guam.

Si Yu’us Ma’åse’

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