Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Pay Raise News and Blues

The pay raise controversy is now largely moot, but it did bring up some very important points about governance and about the connection or lack of connection that people feel to their governments in a democracy. In a democratic society, the government is supposed to represent the people, but that responsibility that people have is sometimes rejected, primarily because people want to cover their apathy or their lack of engagement. They complain more ferociously because they are not engaged, because they may not actually know what is going on.

This does not mean that their critiques are not without merit, but only that they are often not very productive because the passion or conviction with which they are spoken has no bearing to how effective they are, or how much those critiquing actually understand. It was intriguing in this controversy to see how so many people would direct their ire to the Guam Legislature, simply because they were the ones doing the listening. They were the ones responding to the public's frustration, the ones meeting with them, even proposing legislation, and so because they offered these spaces for discussion, they ended up receiving the majority of the negative attention. The Governor's office in contrast, which was the one who compelled the Legislature to act on the issue, and made some of the more bewildering statements, was kept out of it, primarily because they were not engaging with the community over their concerns. It was also unfortunate how many people who were upset, were not aware that this conversation over pay raises has been going on for several years already.

At the core of this issue though was a lack of leadership by Guam's leaders. With a huge excess of funds, there should have been a conversation over what to do with this money. To implement these pay raises just a few weeks after an election smacks of everything that people loathe about Guam's government. It seems so odious, so political. Many of the people who complained felt like there should have been more thought given to the wider community. After all, if you compare the minimum wage increase for the island as a whole to the sometimes massive raises some elected officials are receiving (in addition to their retro pay), it seems and feels so wrong. This pay raise issue more than anything showed the way in which governments become their own entities and organisms and have their own internal logic, which can appall those on the outside. The government must take care of its own as well as everyone else, both in terms of electoral politics, but also to keep the government running smoothly.  With this extra money, an election just finished it seemed the perfect time to reward GovGuam employees for their hard work. Often times the span between election day and inauguration day is thought of as dead time, where there is nothing to do for politicians or when no one is watching. It becomes the perfect time to sneak things through, to pass things with less political risk.

Here are some articles, letters and editorials on the pay raise issue.

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Repeal pay raises for elected officials
Letter to the editor
Guam PDN
1/3/15

Editor's note: The following is an edited, condensed version of testimony provided to the 32nd Guam Legislature.

In 2005 a bill was introduced and subsequently passed by the Legislature. It mandated that all public school children be required to conduct 75 hours of community service learning with the intent of, and I quote: "to allow each student to gain knowledge of the community's needs, to expand learning beyond the four walls of the classroom, to provide opportunities for lifelong intellectual and personal growth, and to feel the intrinsic rewards associated with giving back to society."

The bill was intended to foster a sense of community and altruism in our youth through the practice of public service or service learning. On Nov. 21, the governor and this Legislature removed the quality of altruism from public service and replaced it with a selfishness never seen before in the history of our island.

There is no polite way to put this, but the passage of Bill 32-208 represents the epitome of hypocrisy.
Evidence for that statement would be, the use of the word "deserve," by both branches of this government as justification for the increase in salaries. How does an elected official tell the next generation to give back to society, without expecting anything in return, while at the same time say, they deserve to be paid the highest compensation in the nation for serving the public?

Everyone needs to be paid, but if you, elected officials, say you deserve such high compensation for your good work, I ask you, how much?

Let's see, in 2011, senators' salaries went from $55,303 to $60,000 and just three years later from $60,000 to $85,000! That's an increase of almost 40 percent in three years. That does not include cashed out annual leave and other benefits. This begs the question: When will it be enough?

The top three highest-paid legislatures in the nation are as follows:

1. California, the third largest state with 38 million people. Legislative salary $90,000.
2. Guam, 30 square miles with a population of 168,000. Legislative salary $85,000.
3. Pennsylvania, with 12.77 million people. Legislative salary $84,000

If a more closer comparison needs to be made relative to cultural, social and cost of living issues, then let's take Hawaii, with 1.4 million people and a legislative salary of $57,852.

Public servants in many jurisdictions throughout the United States are just as committed, talented and hardworking as you, but don't say they deserve to be paid such an insane amount money to help their people. As a matter of fact, 41 out of 50 state legislatures' (members) receive under $50,000 a year! Some only receive a couple of hundred dollars a year! So I ask, what makes you so special?

Good senators of Guam, it is unconscionable to expect to be paid such high salary levels when the community and its people continue to endure substandard results on social and economic issues facing the island. Here are a few examples:

• There are 48,000 people on Guam who receive some form of public assistance;
• There are 1,500 homeless individuals/families on Guam and it increases every year;
• There are panhandlers on almost every major intersection on Guam;
• There is an increase of violent crime and a proliferation of methamphetamine abuse on Guam;
• Future generations are straddled with debt borrowed by this government to pay tax returns and other liabilities incurred by the government and its leaders; and
• We have a public hospital that is constantly on the brink of bankruptcy;

The list goes on and on.

I support the bill to reduce legislative salaries, but it does not go far enough. I recommend that (it) include the executive branch as well, because the integrity and spirit of public service does not stop with this branch.

Many state governors often refuse to take a salary or they out-right return their salaries to the people. Our governor's salary level of $130,000 is higher than 21 state governors.

When one of the richest men on Guam, who just happens to be the governor, says he deserves more money for helping the people, then the spirit and integrity of public service is definitely in trouble.
I further recommend that any future salary increases ... be put before the people in the form of a public referendum.

I implore you to return the people's money and use it to help the people. Restore the spirit and integrity of public service that has been entrusted to you by the people of Guam.

Andri Baynum is a resident of Harmon.
 
 
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Horrible: Elected official lined pockets with cash as community suffers
Editorial
Guam PDN
1/5/15

Our community is disappointed and appalled by the failure of the senators in 32nd Guam Legislature to pass legislation repealing their pay raises before the end of the term. Bill 436-32 failed in a 10-3 vote last Thursday.

Sens. Frank Aguon Jr., Michael San Nicolas and Mike Limtiaco were the only three lawmakers who supported the legislation. Sen. Brant McCreadie was absent.

Senators in the 33rd Legislature, especially new members, have an opportunity to make this right and mustn't fail the community.

It's was wrong for Gov. Eddie Calvo and senators to approve pay raises and retroactive payments for themselves while shortchanging or ignoring the government's ongoing fiscal problems. They put themselves, and their bank accounts, above the community's most pressing needs.

San Nicolas, who has publicly opposed the raises, has said he will reintroduce a bill to repeal those raises in the new term.

But even worse than the pay raises was the issuance of retroactive pay back to January 2014. Senators each got $14,000. Calvo's retroactive pay was about $22,000. Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio got about $15,000 in retroactive pay.

When they wrongly decided to give themselves unjustified pay raises, there was no reason to for elected officials to give themselves retroactive pay. They could have just made the new pay scales effective starting in 2015. Instead, they decided to line their pockets with cash.

San Nicolas donated his $14,000 to Sanctuary Inc., a local nonprofit that has been shortchanged by the local government in previous years.

We applaud San Nicolas for standing up for the community, and for opposing the pay raises and retroactive pay. We await his new bill to repeal pay raises for senators, the governor and lieutenant governor.


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Revoke: Government senators failing community by prioritizing pay raises.
Editorial
Guam PDN
December 18, 2014

Actions by Gov. Eddie Calvo and lawmakers to prioritize their pay raises over the island's critical needs are a disservice to the community. Those raises should be revoked.

What's worse is that elected officials approved giving themselves retroactive pay to January. In the case of senators, the Legislature must now find additional money or take money from other parts of its budget to cover $400,000 in retroactive salaries. None of this was considered by lawmakers before passing the pay raises.


Sen. Frank Aguon has introduced a bill to repeal the pay raises for senators. Bill 436 would exclude senators from the raise while preserving raises for the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and Cabinet members. Senators last week voted to reject a bill by Sen. Mike San Nicolas that would have repealed all of those raises.


There is absolutely no legitimate justification for raising the salaries of lawmakers, the governor and lieutenant governor, especially in light of more pressing and critical community needs. Senators also failed this community by not holding any public hearings on legislation to increase pay for elected officials.

For the past decade, elected officials have refused to accept reality and constantly spend far beyond the government's means, all while refusing to prioritize critical services. This has led to multiple bond-borrowing efforts that have placed the burden of elected officials' irresponsibility on the backs of future generations. Meanwhile, GovGuam has a growing list of mandates, obligations and critical needs it must fulfill.

Crime is up and we need more patrol officers. The prison is overcrowded, can't provide adequate medical services to inmates and lacks corrections officers. Guam Memorial Hospital can't pay its bills and doesn't get enough funding. Our schools are deteriorating and are constant victims of vandalism and break-ins. The mass transit system is still broken. The list goes on and on.

Until these community needs are met, it's irresponsible and shameful for Calvo and senators to commit taxpayer money to fund their pay raises while continuing to shortchange the rest of the island.

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Raises for administration are wrong
Letter to the Editor
Guam PDN
12/23/14

The Calvo-Tenorio team through the actions of Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio proposed an unprecedented across-the-board pay increase for the governor, lieutenant governor and their cabinet. This shady proposal is the administration's Christmas bonus to their cabinet for their landslide gubernatorial victory.

If this is the right direction (possible) gubernatorial candidate Tenorio is headed to in 2018, we the people need to change directions. The proa has sunk and the loot from GovGuam's coffers banked by this covetous team and their cabinet.

Retroactive pay is not just compensation for work done in a meritorious manner, nor does it create equity. It's a sign of the times that the middle class has now been elevated to the upper class and the lower class downgraded to below-poverty levels.

When people are judged by merit and not connections, people will work hard and everyone will benefit, not just the select few chosen from this administration. Rewarding yourself with raises from the people of Guam's empty coffers for work you judge as deserving and good is irresponsible, contemptible and corrupt.

GovGuam is not the Calvo-Tenorio enterprise. It is the people of Guam's. If we the people cannot trust our highest leaders, the governor and lieutenant governor to do the job they're supposed to -- promote our common welfare -- we have lost.

In these times when test scores are so low because Guam DOE can't afford to give their students a decent education and textbooks or even safe schools and physical education; when this administration refused to increase the minimum wage to a living wage for our impoverished workers; when the price of water was increased almost 20 percent; when southern residents have had to deal with unsafe road hazards; when crime is at an all- time high; when the price of imported goods and inflation increased substantively; when GMH is nearing pay-less paydays and the basic medicines unavailable; when our correction system is overcrowded; when health care is a privilege for the wealthy; when public health is unprepared for an epidemic; when our homeless population is at the highest ever; when the wait list for public housing spans five years; when our people are suffering from the elderly to the children -- the governor gave himself a $40,000 raise.

This is the me-first, not the people-first, movement. The $111 million in Section 30 federal funds was not allotted for raises, but basic necessities -- health, education, justice, public safety and housing.
Maria Cruz is a resident of Malesso.

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San Nicolas Sends FOIA Requests to Account for Retro Pay Outs to Elected Officials and Political Appointees; San Nicolas Office Vandalized
Pacific News Center
12/23/14

Senator Michael F.Q. San Nicolas sent a FOIA request yesterday to the Department of Administration, Speaker Won Pat and others for the retro payment amounts and the names of the individuals the payments were made to.  
“We have the right to know who got how much,” said Senator San Nicolas.  “A full accounting of the amount of retro payments paid out to elected officials and political appointees have not yet been made public.”

It was during the session floor debate on Senator San Nicolas’s Bill 435-32 to repeal the raises and retro payment that Senator San Nicolas showed that the raise amounts for Governor and Lt. Governor were significantly higher than the actual amounts recommended by the Hay study and that there was no Hay study recommendation for any Senatorial salary increase.

“If the Hay study recommendations were not followed for elected officials, it throws all the raises and retro payments for elected officials and political appointees as passed in Public Law 32-208 into question.  We have the right to know how much of a retro payment each of the political appointees and elected officials got.”
Senator San Nicolas came into his office this morning to find it had been vandalized.  A large rock had thrown through the window right by Senator San Nicolas’s desk, leaving a large hole and shattering the window.  A police report was filed about the incident.  Nothing was taken in the office.

Senator San Nicolas is asking anyone with any information about the parties responsible for this vandalism to call either the police or Senator San Nicolas’s office at 472-6453.
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A Good Day to be a Politician
Editorial
Monday, 24 Nov 2014 03:00am
VARIETY NEWS STAFF
ON FRIDAY, two and a half weeks after Election Day, the Guam Legislature voted itself and other top government officials hefty pay raises. The legislation was introduced by the governor who will receive a 44 percent increase in salary to $130,000. The legislature was called into special session by the lieutenant governor in his capacity as acting governor; the legislation provides a 29 percent raise to the lieutenant governor who now receives $110,000.

All members of the legislature who were present Friday voted for the pay increase except Sen. Michael Limtiaco, the only senator who did not run for re-election. The senators received a $20,000 or 31 percent increase in salary to $85,000. The increase will make them the second highest paid state or territorial legislators under the United States flag, behind only the California lawmakers who are paid $91,525.

Also to receive substantial increases with the enactment of Bill 1(8-S) are the governor’s appointed Cabinet members – more than 80 directors, deputy directors and others with similar titles. The public auditor, her staff and the attorney general of Guam will also be paid more as a result of the legislation.

The raises were among the Hay pay salary adjustments contained in the Competitive Wage Act of 2014 that was transmitted to the legislature by the governor on Jan. 15, about 11 months before the election. That bill also contained Hay pay salary adjustments for almost all classified line employees. After much legislative maneuvering, the majority members of this legislature passed legislation granting the salary increases for the classified employees, but set the salaries for the top officials – those impacted by the current legislation – at the level they were on Oct. 1, 2013.

At the time, we agreed with that action. We opined that the classified rank-and-file workers should be paid well enough to provide for themselves and their families as they provide needed government services. But the unclassified management-level government employees are paid well enough, some are more qualified for their positions than others and, in general, political public service should not be too lucrative.

In a statement announcing that he had called the legislature into special session last week to consider the bill, the lieutenant governor noted that Bill 1(8-S) contained the same proposed raises that had been rescinded earlier in the year and wrote, “This issue was politicized before the election ... .”

We assume he meant, correctly, that raises for top officials would not have been popular among voters and so the legislators acted in accordance with what they perceived the view of the people. But the election is over and they are the victors.

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