August 18, 2017 (Hagåtña) — When you have no open discussion on the numbers you expect your senator to vote on — in order to fund the government services that you and other Guamanians deserve — you can expect chaos and confusion.
That’s exactly what happened during the Legislative budget session as senators discussed the Speaker’s proposed budget Bill No. 22-34.
Through the course of yesterday’s session, it was clear that the Speaker and the Office of Finance and Budget (OFB), had not apprised fellow senators of their substitute budget bill and the methodology by which they came upon the numbers presented.
The failure to hold a Special Accounting Service (SAS) meeting, for example, or promote discussions on revenue during a budget hearing – before session when voting is expected to happen — causes consternation like we saw yesterday.
After several confusing rounds of discussion, the Legislative budget session finally wound down, for the day at least, at almost 8 p.m. At that point, only 7 senators — a mix of Republicans and Democrats — remained at the Legislature. And those who remained were obviously tired and frustrated at the lack of information, or as Vice Speaker Terlaje pointed out, a lack of communication between the OFB and the fiscal team. Other senators left.
And who can blame them?
We share in the frustrations of most of the senators who spent much of the afternoon questioning the budget as proposed by Speaker BJ Cruz’s Office of Finance and Budget.
After a grueling 7-hour marathon, members of the Administration’s fiscal team still sat there talking about the numbers as the Administration had proposed, HOWEVER it was really the Office of Finance and Budget that had the final say in the proposed budget bill in front of senators yesterday.
Department of Administration’s Christine Baleto tried to explain to an equally frustrated Vice Speaker Therese Terlaje: It was difficult for her to discuss the differences between the Governor’s proposed revenue projections and Speaker Cruz’s bill, presented yesterday by his Office of Budget and Finance.
“We had recommended, and even asked the Speaker to hold an SAS … so we could talk about the revenues …. But that never happened,” Baleto stated. “In that meeting, we could have sat with other senators of the Legislature’s appropriation’s committee, and we could have hashed out all of these questions and concerns with the Office of Finance and Budget, which provided the new numbers.”
Senator Fernando Estevez stated: “I think that brings up a point … it becomes a simple matter of whose methodology do we use,” he stated with growing concern. “As the administration is here trying to justify anomalies, the OFB just completely ignored them. … We’re going to end up going back and forth all day because you guys are using completely different accounting practices. And I wish the SAS had been able to convene so you guys could have worked this out at an earlier time before we had come into session.”