Mister Speaker, Madam Chief Justice, Lieutenant Governor, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, hafa adai yan si Yu’us ma’ase.
Buenas noches manelu’hu yan man’aina’hu,
Seven years ago I said that we could reach our greatest heights with or without the military buildup. During that 2010 election, Ray and I said the buildup will not be the ‘be all, end all’ of our prosperity. That we could do it on our own. That we, the people of Guam, are the masters of our own destiny.
Seven years later, and I’m reporting to you for the seventh time that the state of our island is strong. It is growing stronger. And if this trend continues along this trajectory over the next decade,
we will bring more families out of poverty;
you’ll have greater financial security, modern homes, and more time spent with each other;
Crime will go down with every improvement to the quality of life
we will reduce the rate of chronic disease;
we will produce more of the food we eat;
we will reduce dependence on imported fuel; and harness renewable energy to power homes and businesses;
more roads will be paved and modernized;
and the citizens you and I know today as our children and grandchildren – they will compete against the best in the world … and win.
And we haven’t even factored in the economic growth anticipated from the military buildup. That means we can depend on ourselves through the realization of our true potential. We’re renewing our cultural belief that our prosperity is built upon the trials and tribulation of everyone who walked before us. We started our journey at the frontier of the path they blazed, leaving us with the last of their footsteps. Those footsteps we walk in today connect the past, the present, and the future in collective harmony. I will leave my final footsteps as your Maga Lahi in two years. The cycle will reciprocate. New ground will be covered. And as long as we’re going in the right direction, we will always be at the frontier.
Our connection from our past to our future has special meaning for the Chamorro people in this hall during this time. It was 100 years ago that my great grandfather, Tomas Anderson Calvo, addressed the First Guam Congress, sending the Naval Governor a message for Washington – if freedom is the bedrock of the American idea, then why have the Chamorro people been governed without their consent?
During a previous address, I told the story of my Grandpa Jake and the day he quit his segregated job at the Navy-owned Bank of Guam. Grandpa Jake also was an Assemblyman, who advocated Chamorro self determination and self governance with ferocity. And so did my Uncle Eddie, when he served in this very hall. My dad also served in this hall before he made his contribution to the self determination effort as the Maga Lahi. I remember those days as a kid doing my homework in this building. Hundreds of leaders and visionaries over the past century paved the way to this very moment. What better way to remind ourselves of this plight than for this government – united by our Chamorro heritage tonight – to commemorate the day, 68 years ago, when the Chamorro assemblymen walked out of this hall to fight for the rights of our people.
So, here we are, together in these hallowed halls, and Tomas Calvo’s question still has not been answered. Come hell or high water, we’re going to get an answer, because this has gone on way too long. The task forces on independence, free association, and statehood - all are active and preparing outreach for a vote of self determination. Legal uncertainties, however, remain. We do not yet have an opinion from the Attorney General on the infamous 70 percent provision in the plebiscite law. But that may be because we’re still waiting on the federal court to rule on a case that challenges our ability to do this.
This has got to be the most ironic and outrageous part of this process. There is the possibility that our right of self determination may be forbidden by a court of the very government, from whom it is our right to decolonize. If that happens, senators, we must be prepared to petition the other branches of the federal government to secure the right of our people against this continuing subjugation. I, for one, will not turn my back on the Chamorro people.
We have heard a big outcry about the rights of illegal immigrants. Where is the outrage about the rights of our people and the people of all the American territories? It was very nice of President Obama and all those east coast professors and CNN commentators to stand up for the plight of people from many different countries. Why have none of them said a word about the American citizens deprived of political freedom from the very government so willing to offer freedom to others? Yet, the people of the territories remain among the most patriotic of communities in this nation.
I joke with my staff that the State Department must be counting down the days to my retirement. But there’s a major point to be made here. As the Maga Lahi, I have made decolonization a major initiative in this government. There is the possibility that in two years, another governor may hit the reset button. It is critical that before I leave office, we facilitate the vote of self determination and give my replacement a charge: bring the expression of self determination of the people of Guam to Congress, and fight like crazy to complete the charge Maga Lahi Hurao gave to his successors.
Facilitating that vote is one of the six major priorities of my second term that I hope we can accomplish together.
A concurrent priority is the development of this city. With the help of this legislature, we are going to finish what we started and completely revitalize Hagatna. Think about this area we're in and picture the entirety of the capital bringing wonder and pride to us all. I was originally supposed to show you the video simulation of the new Hagatna and take you all on a virtual tour. But we’re told that all this new equipment here doesn’t work and that we couldn’t bring our own. So, I’ll describe it as best we can. But if you’re watching from my Facebook page, you can find the video there and play it along my description.
The video flies you over the Paseo peninsula where you can see the stadium, and the popular Chamorro Village to the modernized Gregorio D. Perez Marina with an expanded Fishermen’s Co-op. Guamanians and visitors can walk across Marine Corps Drive on a bridge that will take them to the beautiful Senator Antonio M. Palomo Guam Museum Chamorro Educational Facility, the Guam Congress Building, and then Plaza de Espana, which will be buffeted by the Palasyu. You’ll also see government buildings that will house agencies and allow us to save money in rent and invest in ourselves. Finally, we come around to see the Hagatna River.
I’ve been told that this is all a pipe dream. Some people are incredulous about this video, almost as though we just weren’t good enough for such a stunning vista. Or that we weren’t capable of making it happen. I will take great pleasure in bursting this bubble when I say, too late haters, it’s already happening. Look at the renovated Chamorro Village and the Paseo Stadium. Look at the museum next door. Look at this building we’re in now. Gosh, you really haven’t seen anything yet. We’re moving on the new Fisherman’s Coop, the Palasyu, the new capital plaza surrounding the Palasyu that the next governor will move into, along with many other government agencies … and, yes, we’re going to build that riverwalk.
The riverwalk that critics say will never happen serves a practical purpose underlying its design. While it is breathtaking, it is a solution to a problem we’ve had in Hagatna since the post-War period. The riverwalk really is the ornament of a major flood mitigation project that, when done and certified by the Army Corps of Engineers, will lift many of the stifling development restrictions throughout this city. That is revolutionary in our efforts to reshape commerce, integrate culture and art, and bring the people back to Hagatna. And one more thing … when the Trump administration asked every American governor to submit their top three infrastructure projects for grant funding, I named the riverwalk. So that pipe dream is a lot closer to reality than naysayers may have thought.
Another priority is making sure every citizen has access to the best medical care we can provide. We can be modernizing Guam Memorial Hospital while Hagatna is under construction. All we need is for this Legislature to authorize the capital investment, and we will break ground on a plan that will renovate all the patient areas, expand clinical services, and give everybody in need access to cancer, diabetes, and heart care. This proposed $100 million modernization is a financial investment because GMH will be put on the path of self-sustainability. The hospital will be investing in infrastructure and equipment not only to improve the quality of care it provides, but the achieve greater levels of reimbursement. But investing in GMH goes beyond that.
While the dollar amount matters, money doesn’t hold a candle to what this means for you and everyone you know and love. Think about everyone you know who struggles with cancer, diabetes, heart disease. Think about everyone you loved, who could not afford off island treatment and had to fundraise … or worse, didn’t have a choice but to die without the medical care they needed. Think about the babies and grandbabies you will have. The surgery you will need one day. Think about the day of your reckoning with God, and whether you will leave this world peacefully, in comfort, and surrounded by the care of those closest to you. This kind of medical care should be available and accessible to every single one of us. And that means this effort should be at the top of our priorities.
This effort goes hand-in-hand with Sen. Rodriguez’s proposal to close the gap on insurance coverage. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again … if there is anything that will cause this Republican to support a tax increase or the elimination of an industry from the qualifying certificate program, it will be to pay for working class citizens to have the medical coverage they and their families need. Senator Rodriguez, thank you for sending my office your plan. I support universal coverage, and I’m open to financing solutions to make it happen. Senators, I look forward to your debate over the bill I will be introducing to authorize $100 million in financing to modernize GMH.
Our next priority is to continue paving village roads. I agree with Speaker Cruz’s bill and I ask whether he is open to an amendment. $50 million won’t be enough to pave every village road on Guam. So I asked mayors to give us their top three roads. We can fund this by adding four cents to the per gallon liquid fuel tax if Speaker Cruz is open to an amendment on his bill. If we can get this done by the end of March, we can break ground on the first roads of this program by summer.
As we prepare for this possibility, we will be issuing GARVEE bonds to pave Ypao Road and finish Maga Haha Highway in Tiyan. We’re also going to issue a contract soon for the pavement of Hamburger Road for the first time since 1967.
My fourth priority is something some of you may not want to hear. We are going to get our brothers and sisters who’ve lost their way in life back on track. We are going to hold them, hug them, love them, clean them up, and get their butts to work. The first thing we’re going to do is remove , we are going to imprison more drug dealers and lead a race to lift up our loved ones who have suffered in the name of their profit. We are going to help those struggling with addiction to become productive family members who work. We’re going to help ex convicts to become farmers, construction workers, and military servicemembers. And by golly, couch potatoes are going to feel some shame if they don’t find work to do in this bustling island economy.
My fellow citizens, since coming to office, we have seen some remarkable and amazing change in this island. And that’s because of you – most of you. Modernizing achievements came from students who studied harder and got involved. From the 70,000 in our workforce who try and try every day. From veterans and retirees who are raising their grandkids, farming, organizing, and contributing. From homemakers who are making life better for everyone around them.
But for every two steps we take forward, we look back to find our loved ones stuck in a rut. I walked the streets, when we started our first term, and I asked many people in need – ‘What are your problems? What can we do to help?’ From the answers you gave me, we mobilized the government of Guam into a program against poverty – addressing issues from affordable housing to job training and transportation. We helped countless residents with their power and water bills, some relief from the landlord, medical expenses, school uniforms and shoes. We offered job training, expanded the pre-school program, increased the minimum wage, reopened public housing, improved public transportation, subsidized caregiving, promoted the adult high school and GED programs, and reopened parks.
The taxpayers of Guam went out of their way to pave every path for folks to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. For six years, the physically able and cognitively capable adult population has had every opportunity to help themselves out of struggle and strife. And many people did. Everyone can understand how a major life event can get someone down for weeks, even months at a time. But there is no excuse for those of us who haven’t taken initiative in six years.
If you’re someone who believes you don’t have a shot, I want you to think about a citizen named Joseph Duenas. He and his mom are from Sinajana. You’ve probably seen Joseph walking around town. Sometimes he goes as far north as Dededo and he may stop you for a ride back to Agana Shopping Center. But every morning, like clockwork, Joseph shows up to work at Government House. He helps with the maintenance of the facility and puts in a full day’s effort Monday to Friday. And he takes home a paycheck that helps him and his family to live their part of the Guamanian Dream. Nothing about this story is out of the ordinary for people who work for a living, except this: Joseph has a cognitive disability and a slight physical impairment. He’s one of the people whom we workers pay taxes and expect to help through the social safety net. But Joseph isn’t having it like that. He’s working and paying taxes to support people who have more of an opportunity than him to make as much if not more than he takes home.
Not a single one of us – not me, not you, not anyone – is owed a case of spam. We are a strong community because we pull it together as one. We each earn our keep and then some. We have been charitable. We have opened our homes and our hearts to all in need. We have been patient while people found themselves through some very troubling times. Even one of the greatest writers and thinkers of all time dedicated a faith-changing piece to an entire city in the ancient world. Around this time, it was unheard of to embrace people who make mistakes. It was 60 years after Christ’s birth, when his Apostle, Paul, wrote from prison in Rome a letter to the Ephesians. I want to read some of it because it’s a great message for all of us about how we can deal with some of our problems. Paul wrote, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another … Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands so that he may have something t share with anyone in need.” This government has extended compassion and opportunity for six years now under my administration. The time for tough love has come. But make no mistake about it. This is about love.
There are people who truly need this community’s help and safety net. These are people with physical, medical, or cognitive disability that prevent work, and those who provide direct care to them. These are our elderly, whose savings and pensions just aren’t enough to cover growing prices. I’m not talking about them in this discussion. Our society always must care for these folks with compassion.
I’m talking about adults who can work and who are not supporting themselves and their families. I can think of only three reasons why – after six years – there are adult citizens who continue depending on their families and the public nipple. Some are hooked on drugs. Some can’t catch a break because of arrest and conviction records. And some are plain lazy.
We have a suite of solutions to get people back on track. It started with the deportation of foreign criminals. If we want to give our people a fresh start, it’s best that we remove bad apples from the bunch. The police, customs, and the U.S. DEA have been very successful taking crystal meth and drugs without prescriptions off our streets. The war on drugs will continue confiscating narcotics and lowering the drug supply. But that’s not the total solution. The real problem is demand – addiction – self medication. The solution is to replace each addict’s desire for the drug with productive activity, and with hope that their lives can change.
I beg your pardon as I directly address the parents and siblings of citizens abusing drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. We need your help to make this work. I’m going to name some opportunities for your loved one to talk to people who will help them and walk them into sobriety. I’m also going to name some opportunities for them to make a living with a job and even an accelerated trades program. We in the administration will push these programs out and welcome your loved ones with open arms. What we need is for you to encourage them to give this a shot.
I want your loved ones to know that we’re not looking down at them. The last thing these people will want is to feel judged and lectured. Be kind as you approach your son, daughter, brother, or sister. Let them know that Eddie Calvo wants to make a deal with them. All you ask is that they open their minds to this possibility. By the way, I’m going to use a little more of the Apostle Paul’s letter to help me with this pep talk, because it’s just so very appropriate to what we’re talking about tonight: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear … Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
So, this is what we’re offering: I’ve directed the behavioral health agency to pool resources and get ready to take calls and meetings with people struggling with addiction. These are professionals. These are the people who know how to guide drug abusers day by day. The number is 647-8833. And you don’t have to worry – you’re not going to get in trouble if you seek help. There won’t be any police monitoring any phone lines or meetings you may have.
Many drug abusers already have records that keep them from getting jobs. I’m going to make this offer, on a case-by-case basis to residents who have a criminal record, have served their sentence, and who are not guilty of sex crimes, murder, domestic violence, or aggravated assault. If you want to join the military or the national guard … if you want to do civilian work on the military bases, such as construction … or if you have skills for a job in demand, but your record prevents your hire … I’m going to give you a second chance at life. I will pardon your criminal record, but only after a series of steps. You’ll need to apply for the pardon through the Pardon Review Board. Once that happens, you’ll need to volunteer for twice-weekly drug tests so that I know you’re serious about this change. A social worker will be assigned to help you and guide you through this period. On the day of your hearing with the Pardon Review Board, we’re looking for testimony from others that you have indeed turned your life around and that you’re serious about this change. If the Pardon Review Board recommends your pardon, you will have one last interview before I pardon you – with Lieutenant Governor Tenorio, or with me. This is how much we care. This is how much our island cares about you.
Now, the pardons won’t work on their own for everyone. Most people need a job in order to make a living. The good news is there are a lot of jobs – high-paying jobs – available. The problem is that job seekers don’t have the skills the employers need. A classic example is with the H2 and H1 foreign labor programs. The construction industry needs about 1,100 workers to do all the work that’s on hold right now. And this doesn’t even account for the work needed when the military buildup shifts into high gear. There are many other job openings in other career paths as well – nursing, accounting, farming, teaching. We’re looking at bringing workers from Puerto Rico for the construction shortage, but that’s just a short-term and temporary solution.
We got together with Sam Mabini and her folks at the Department of Labor, and with Dr. Mary Okada at GCC and we’re organizing two fast-track programs for residents looking for work. The first is a construction bootcamp for 100 people every program year. The labor department will run this program in partnership with construction companies that will promise to hire graduates from this bootcamp. The second program is a 6-month accelerated certificate program in construction trades that GCC will run with funding support from the labor agency. This will produce 300 ready-for-hire construction workers every six months.
We can’t live in a Guam that has two realities. The economy is stronger than it’s ever been. Projections for growth last beyond the next decade. More people are working. Wages are higher. The government of Guam is modernizing and responding to change with a smaller workforce. We’re building roads and facilities for communities. We’re rebuilding an entire city. And we’re investing in technology to make life even better for all.
But too many of us didn’t improve our lives at the same pace everyone else did in the past six years. Good things are happening all around, and the train is ready to leave the station. I need all of you on it. This is the land of the Chamorro – we work hard and we work for each other. We don’t leave people behind. We have to be strong – all of us – together – because some very big things are ahead of us… and there are people with big problems who can’t do it on their own.
Priority 5 is preventing the children we know today from becoming the people we just talked about helping as adults. We are living in an era of increasing anti-social behavior among children, special needs that we have to understand better, and abuse at the hands of adults. Our urgent attention is needed to give these children and teenagers the focused attention they need to grow into productive citizens.
I’m happy to report that we’ll finally begin construction on the emergency transitional home for abandoned and abused children transitioning to foster care. God blessed me with my ride or die partner for life, who brought into this world the six greatest gifts I’ll ever know. As if that weren’t enough, she used this time we had to serve you, the people, to help foster children. This transitional home is happening because of the work of many people, but it is the brainchild of the First Lady of Guam, who did what she could to be a mother for many.
We also got the Safe Housing Task Force underway. Nothing breeds trouble like a group of teenagers with nothing better to do. Misplaced energy leads to conflicts, fights, drinking, drug abuse … and before you know it, it’s not safe to step outside your home. Our partnerships with the mayors and non-profit organizations are starting to turn blighted communities around.
This is the same formula I’d like to look at with DOE for all our public schools. My office has asked DOE to compute the cost of equipping every school with art supplies, music instruments, and athletic equipment. We need to bring soul back into the learning environment, and physical fitness and sportsmanship to feed that soul.
Concentration on the arts and physical activity were among 89 suggested reforms for the Department of Education to make. We spent 2011 into 2012 working with educators to discuss, debate, and create these 89 reforms all designed around DOE’s mission – to prepare all children for life.
In the interest of time, I’m going to summarize this section, which you can read in the print version of this speech on my Facebook page and website. In a nutshell, DOE has been hard at work reforming its entire culture for the better. Among our reforms they began implementing, they adopted rigorous standards, trained their workforce, instituted environments of open communication and collaboration, and even began decentralizing curriculum to the autonomy of schools and the flexibility and creativity teachers should have over their classrooms.
We’re beginning to see trending data and anecdotal evidence that DOE’s efforts are paying off. Your children will be more prepared for adult life, and that means our future will be in good hands.
Another critical reform area, where DOE and a multi-agency system of care are making progress is early childhood development. Studies show – and parents know this from experience – that the most important years of a child’s life are between birth and 8 years old. How they learn to react to the world around them during this time likely is a precursor to academic achievement and their transition to adult life. My wife – the mother of our six kids – saw how important it is to provide structured learning for these children and didn’t hesitate to accept the call to chair the Early Learning Council. One of the council’s goals is something I proposed as well: universal pre-K for 4-year-olds. All the evidence and data is there to back up an investment into a policy like this. The icing on the cake is that a universal program likely will free single mothers and fathers to find and hold down a job while their kids re in school. For whatever reason, the previous legislature, despite the evidence of critical need, turned my phased-in universal program proposal into a pilot program. Since then, only four schools have enrolled four year olds into pre-K. I’m asking the legislature to scrap that micromanaging law and authorize the Board of Education to make these decisions. I’m certain this board will be excited to open all elementary school to four-year-olds throughout this island. The faster we do this, the faster we can work on getting three-year-olds into a structured setting.
Five years ago I spent almost all of my state of the island address explaining how this island will rise or fall as a consequence of what happens in classrooms. The future starts there. As a citizen who will be an old man watching these kids take our island to its next heights, I feel pretty darn good about these kids growing into that future based on all the great work happening at DOE. So, thank you DOE. Thank you teachers, staff, principals and vice principals. Thank you to the Board of Education, Joe Sanchez the acting Superintendent, his deputies and the central staff, and of course to the Superintendent, Jon Fernandez, who worked with us, tore down the walls, and got these reforms going.
Our final priority already is underway, and is so far reaching that it permeates every corner of this address. Last year, we got the community together to build a vision for Guam over the next half century. People from all walks of life imagined what Guam could be like if we stuck to some fundamental Chamorro core values. Their vision is worth our effort to achieve it. And to achieve it, we needed to get working all the initiatives you’ve already heard me talk about, and the course we are setting for the issues I’m going to bring up after this one. As this work continues through my term, teams of planners, designers, leaders, students, and participants in the Imagine Guam visioning process are executing the Guam 2065 Commission. The commission has one role – to create and implement the Government of Guam Comprehensive Master Plan. This master plan will, until 2065, broadly guide development, policy frameworks, natural resources protection, economic and regulatory policy, and education outcome standards. All of it will be structured to meet the vision statement designed last year.
We have the ability to pursue this agenda and to think about the future because of two important measures of the state of the government. One measure is the stability of operations. The government no longer functions out of daily desperation, operations are steady, and services are – for the most part – improving.
The second measure is the financial situation. Thanks to all of you workers who are growing the economy … thanks to my fiscal team for managing the purse strings … and thanks to the late Speaker Ben Pangelinan and Speaker Cruz’s commitment to frugality, GovGuam finances are stable. Funding sources generally have become reliable and predictable. We’ve paid nearly all our outstanding liabilities outside the short-term deficit. And we’re on the path to eliminating the deficit again in the next couple of years.
Perhaps the easiest way to grade the financial situation is to think about everything that is supposed to be working in the government, and ask how that’s going. Try to remember what the situation was before, when there was a half-a-billion dollar deficit, payless paydays, constant threats of payless paydays, and a lot of money owed to employees, retirees, and taxpayers.
The bi-weekly panic over payroll that we experienced since the turn of the century, has now been replaced with confidence and certainty. Every agency is functioning and providing its core services. We pay our rent, the power and water bill, and our debts to people.
In the six years I’ve been governor, we have defied every stereotype of political office that so often weighs down honest attempts to create lasting change. We did not go on any hiring spree, and the evidence is there are fewer GovGuam employees today than when I took office. Unlike any other Governor’s Office, my employees did not receive random pay raises throughout these past six years. And while other administrations during far worse financial conditions handed out staff pay raises like it was candy, my staff waited to be included with everyone else in the Hay Study, and then were made to wait almost a year after everyone got their pay. Not only did we refuse to engage in the type of political retribution we’ve seen before, we even hired people who opposed our campaign to office. Many companies that didn’t support us and then won government contracts must have thought they were dreaming. It was important for Ray and I to show that the politics of the past are dead, and that we were serious about leading our co-workers to build a new government of Guam that isn’t so intrusive … that we can rely on when we need it … and in which we can all take pride.
I doubt many of our financial achievements would have happened without our concerted effort to end cronyism, instill a sense of justice and fairness, and open this government to the white hot light of public scrutiny.
Despite the positive turnaround in the fiscal environment, the Legislature put us on a lean budget, and we, in turn, run a tight ship. That means not everyone will get everything they want. And that means no one will be 100 percent happy when my fiscal team makes the tough decisions about spending. Everything is about priorities.
My priorities for government operations over the next two years is to reduce, if not eliminate the deficit, conduct another round of compensation adjustments and real property appraisals, get a great deal more of government services online, resolve growing instability with the management of our pension fund, reform our tax system, cut out ridiculous regulation, and build up a one-year tax refund savings account.
I suppose for many, the payment of tax refunds within six months of filing represented the turning point in GovGuam financial management. But the turnaround didn’t just happen in our administration, and it certainly won’t last or improve without the vigilance of the next. Before I came to office, Governor Camacho had to spend eight years administering CPR to the government of Guam treasury. By the time he left, he managed to clean up the books and stabilize operations as best he could given the enormity of the problems his predecessor created.
As much as I like to think about how far we’ve come, and as remarkable as the story of the past 6 years has been … we’d be looking in the wrong direction. We can’t benchmark our success to the standards of our past. Sure, six months to wait for your tax refund is a whole lot better than waiting three or four years. But your bills and your financial obligations don’t care about the past at all. Your debtors are asking, ‘Where’s my money?’ And so, you should rightfully look at us and ask the same thing.
Senators, don’t worry. The only thing I’m trying to set up here is my pitch to you. I need your permission to essentially consolidate all of the money that we know will be generated between January and December for refunds … and pay those refunds over the next couple months. This temporary financial solution is called a Tax and Revenue Anticipation Note. It is a financial tool that works like a line of credit. The banks recognize that governments, just like any other organization, collect taxes and fees year-round. What the bank cares about is what the government can provide, and what the government needs is what the bank supplies: upfront cash.
In this case, we can request proposals from banks to supply GovGuam with $75 million every January. In exchange, the bank will receive a Tax and Revenue Anticipation Note, guaranteeing the payment of that $75 million by September of the same year in order for the next year’s release to happen.
If you give me the authority to do this, senators, the procurement will take a little more than a month, and we can probably process all ready payments within a couple weeks after selection. Doing this will pay our people their money right away, save money because of the consolidation into a lower interest rate, and give us the cash relief to begin deposits into the income tax savings account.
This is a solution that only has an upside. If you can propose something that will pay refunds just as quickly with as little risk as this, then let’s start discussing it. People want their money. I intend on getting this government to give it to them.
Senators, we recognize the differences we have with the way you budget, and the way we manage cash. The rhetoric can be tiring, but I ask you to think about the long-term effect of our often-public disagreements on finances. The ship of state is running better than it has in a while. After all that criticism we both threw at each other, we performed our fiduciary duties and we guarded the public trust from suffering the dramatic doomsday we are so fond of explaining in interviews.
These are the checks and balances of our democracy. You keep me in check, and I keep you in check … regulating each other from amassing too much power and, in turn, empowering the people, whom we serve, with access and engagement. Perhaps we’ve become too sensitive in place of the beautifully-designed mechanics of democracy. One side criticizes something, then the other side argues back. It doesn’t take long for someone to say we need to work together – that there shouldn’t be sides – and that we should be working as one. But I think that’s how corruption starts. That’s how power becomes concentrated into the dealmakers and the powerbrokers.
The fact that this government now is more financially sound, accountable, capable, and transparent after six years of leaders arguing over the best way – it teaches us two important lessons. First, hiding the problems from public discourse just to spare our sensitivities will always mean that only a few people in a closed room provided a solution. All you have to do is add one favor, one dollar, or one inch of land, and the air becomes ripe for corruption to breed. The second lesson is that tasteful discussion and public engagement from the problem to the solution produces results. It is democracy’s way of having the legislature and the governor work together with enough separation to prevent special interest and collusion from robbing power from the people. Our role isn’t to make ourselves feel good – it is to find the truth in any situation requiring our involvement, scrutinize ourselves and each other, and yield to what is right by the people. So, despite the partisan rancor, it truly has been an honor working for the people alongside you senators. I would have done some things differently, and perhaps some solutions could have come faster, but all-in-all, the financial position of the government of Guam is strong because of our indivisible bipartisan effort.
Now, with that said, I’d like to present information to you in hopes of reversing the recent changes to the pension fund. Senators, we turned this government around, but by the end of the next governor’s term, he or she will inherit a crippling financial problem. And I will not fault my successor for squarely placing the blame on us. The return to the defined benefits system is like switching out a solar power plant and going back to burning coal. It is destructive. It is more expensive. And no one else around the country is doing it.
Senators, jaws dropped around tables of the financial ratings agencies in my latest pitch to them in San Francisco. I had to tell them about the new pension fund law. Not only are we burdening the hardworking taxpayers of Guam with a huge additional yearly cost to be paid to the Retirement Fund – we are exposing our people to the kind of risk that can wipe out whatever effort we’ve made to pay down the unfunded liability. And has anyone yet informed government of Guam employees that this law will make their take-home paychecks smaller beginning just next year?
Some of you are angry about the rinky dink casino operation in Tiyan that is legal so long as this Legislature says it is. That casino operation probably deals with a few hundred thousand dollars gambled away. That’s a lot. But if you’re upset about that, you need to be very angry about gambling with $1.4 billion. I am. That’s money that belongs to retirees and employees. And it’s money that current employees and taxpayers are replenishing because of the exact type of financial recklessness that defined the 1990s. That’s how we got into this mess to begin with.
The effects of this gamble won’t be felt until the last year of my term. I’m not bringing this up for any political advantage or to take a swing at anyone. I just don’t want us to make this terrible mistake. Our children and grandchildren will pay dearly for it. And, truly, no governor of Guam should ever have to do what Felix Camacho and I had to do, and clean the widespread destruction of one administration’s reckless and criminal actions. Please, senators, repeal the pension fund law you recently enacted without my signature. I’m working with Congresswoman Bordallo on a solution through Social Security.
There’s another reason this issue is critical. The annual pricetag is significant enough to change the trajectory of progress in each of the issue areas of this government. The reason we worked hard to get finances under control is because these are the ways and means of providing and improving services.
So what is the state of services? And let’s start from an honest financial foundation. The government of Guam does not collect enough revenue to pay for every mandate on the books. The Legislature puts us on a budget, then it’s our job to separate what we want from what we need and prioritize from there. Here is where the Cabinet makes those paychecks that some so desperately want to take from them without ever stepping up to do the job they do. In these past six years, I haven’t encountered one director who hasn’t asked for a bigger budget. My management style is I pick good people, I give them my expectations and standards… then I let them figure out the rest. In a nutshell, this is what I’ve generally told each agency director under my purview: ‘Thank you for taking this job, even though you took a paycut. Here are your core mandates and functions. I’d like you to step it up and meet this objective. And, by the way, you need to cut spending because we’re setting aside 15 percent of your budget to pay down the debts other people left. I need you to do this with less staff because I’m freezing hiring except for critical function positions. We’re not going to replace the people who resign and retire. And speaking of which, I need you to do all of that and take care of your employees. Improve their morale.”
What the Cabinet and all of our GovGuam co-workers did is nothing short of the commitment to excellence I spoke about in my first state of the island speech. The rapid modernization and enhancement of services throughout the agencies is gripping in itself. But it’s the trajectory over the next decade, that is truly exciting.
From 2011 to today, the tourism industry went from a single-market economic driver to a diversified industry with more jobs, more services, better facilities, and record-breaking arrivals every year. If we keep up our strategy, adjust to the new travelers market, and keep taking the risks that were needed to get this far - the next 10 years look even better. The trajectory shows 2.2 million visitors in 2027, with the Korea market vacationing here in numbers nearly overtaking Japan. Other major markets will include mainland China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Russia, and our own countrymen from the mainland. This growth is contingent on our ability to build, not just hotels, but bed and breakfast, timeshare, and vacation rentals. And we should probably get used to more tourists taking extended vacations to live among us and enjoy our culture. And by the way, in order to support this many more tourists, we’re going to need another 10,000 people to fill these jobs.
If you think that’s neat, just wait until your teenager lands a job or opens a business in the last place anyone thought Silicon Valley’s Pacific Sister would be born: Apra Harbor. Apparently, it isn’t just big ships that needs the deepest harbor in this part of the Pacific Ocean. The largest global network of fiber optic cables transmitting almost all the telecommunication around this globe flows to Apra Harbor and out of it. The people who designed the Imagine Guam vision of 2065 made this a prominent point. While the ships account for our 90% import economy that throws our cash to the current … we have a hidden and untapped treasure, literally among the refuse of sunken ships at the harbor. We’re not just talking about jobs. We’re talking about a cutting edge industry that is 100% export-based, giving Guam a real shot at financial independence. I can’t give you a 10 year trajectory, because this gem still is unexplored. But if I were a businessman today, I’d spend a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to pioneer opportunity here.
Technology also is going to change our infant agriculture industry. And it will also affect retailers, transportation, and energy. If we look at the trajectory based on the current pace over the next 10 years, an industry of businessmen and farmers will cultivate produce vertically and begin replacing the supply of stateside imports.
The future of the fishing industry – one that we believe is worth investing in - depends on infrastructure and fish stocks. That’s such a crazy thing to fathom since we are surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, and we are the gatekeepers of the Marianas Trench. Yet most of the fish we buy came from somewhere else. With the U.S. Coast Guard’s vigilance against foreign and illegal poaching in our waters – and hopefully with stronger sustainability efforts by the United States and her Asian allies fishing in our waters, this will be an industry that can replace current imports inside the next decade. We started with the first phase of the Fishing Ramp at the Paseo and we’re moving forward with its completion and with an overhaul of the Marina in Agat. The other big investment I committed to Vice Speaker Therese Terlaje that we will make is a modern fisherman’s coop facility right here in Hagatna. It truly is an affront to our culture – to who we are – if we move into our future by dropping the oldest profession of the Chamorro people. We are fishers, descended from great navigators who used this ocean to trade and create industry throughout the Pacific long before the shipping lines and pirates came.
This confidence we have in our ingenuity and industry already is permeating a younger generation of entrepreneurs. The risks they are taking have ignited a competitive drive in farming, clothing, organic sundries, auto sales, restaurants, film production, the arts, and the performing arts. Watch this generation. They will shatter ceilings of achievement that many before them – businessmen included – thought we were incapable of doing. This new crop of local business owners are invigorating sectors of our economy that always have been on the fringes, but promise the most in the way of jobs and economic growth – design, local energy production, even sustainable manufacturing. I hope we can add athletic training and games, medical tourism, and pan-Pacific exhibits of culture and the performing arts to this list in the near future. Everything about this movement is innovative and new, so I don’t have a trajectory to share. But suffice it to say that if we continue to encourage the talents of our people, and remove as many burdens and impediments from opportunity – we’re going to see great things from Generation X.
We also need to continuously modernize the infrastructure to support the economy we want to have. That requires vision, an ear to the heartbeat of the market, and the integrity to put community values ahead of any one person or group’s profit. That said, I’m working with the Trump administration on updating our compliance with the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act – environmental mandates that a previous local administration so egregiously violated at the risk of the health and life of our people. The $1 billion in wastewater upgrades include designs that are a decade old and a few catalogs past technology. The new administrator of the U.S. EPA personally committed to me that his agency, under his watch, will be sensitive to both the health of our people, and their ability to afford mandates. He is open to exploring new technology that will be less expensive, more efficient, and renewable.
As for the power system – that’s something we can solve on our own. The plan for the past decade has been to invest in about $1 billion for a new production system, and upgrades to the transmission and distribution systems. These changes will bring us into compliance with the Clean Air Act, but still will be far behind technology and our sustainability goals. I’m again calling on the CCU to consider that we’re going to be stuck with whatever we invest in for a very long time. I’d rather use $1 billion on a power system that doesn’t require us to import so much oil or gas. I’d rather pay for a system that will end up reducing my energy costs.
While we’re pondering that, senators, you and I must start considering the best financial solution to paving the balance of the roads that our current plans won’t touch … and to modernize the entire road transportation system to meet the needs of the future. I’m talking about our road networks – with all its signs and accessories - designed and built to relieve traffic, promote walking, biking, and exercise and encourage community activity. We’ve discussed private activity and GARVEE bonds in the past. Let’s bounce some ideas around, hash them out, and get construction moving over the next decade.
The bright gems of our transportation and infrastructure development are our four agencies most prepared for this effort. Well, truly, they’re ahead of the curve. There’s the airport, now operating well under capacity and prepared for anticipated growth in air traffic. And then there’s the seaport, which has a remarkable story. At the start of discussions on the military buildup, it was the seaport that the federal government was worried would choke progress and bring development to a halt. We know now that the federal government has an amazing ability to foreshadow exactly what they will do as they lecture us about the ways of the world. I digress. The seaport is modernizing and expanding. Joanne Brown and her people are already tapping their feet on the floor, fresh from wiping their brows following the amazing work they’ve done there.
The commercial seaport and that entire area is an underdeveloped commercial center just waiting to happen. Joanne, I know we’ve only got a couple years left, but that’s enough time for us to work with Mayor Jesse Alig, GEDA, the legislature, and the Chamber of Commerce to get moving – not just on a new port modernization activity – but the development of Apra Harbor, with remediation to protect the environment there.
Not only will GEDA lend its expertise there, and to my signature Hagatna development program … GEDA is helping GVB to enhance Tumon. This next phase of Tumon Redevelopment will provide long term solution to prepare Tumon for further growth in the visitor industry.
Social services have come a long way these past six years, and this has probably been the most complicated part of the job. On one hand, we do everything we can to make sure the safety net is catching the poor, the working class, the homeless, people with special needs, folks recovering from addiction, children who were abused, adult survivors of abuse, and the elderly. But the complete measure of success is to get people off these programs by reducing their need for services. I am extremely proud of the social workers, program workers, the job trainers, and many of the former clients they had in the social services system of care. When we started in the administration, they had to be concerned about the rapid growth in numbers of adults and children needing assistance to get by each month with enough food to eat. By the time we came to office, over 40,000 people relied on the SNAP program to eat. And that number grew with the sheer force of a freight train gone off track. The momentum from this crash into the cycle of poverty brought SNAP numbers to 47,000 just four years later. But we didn’t just meet the race to provide a growing number of families with assistance. We began to match this agenda with the coordinated care needed to empower families to climb out of the cycle of poverty.
Had we done nothing … had the growth rate continued at its pace, we would have faced the reality of 54,000 of us needing financial help to feed ourselves and our children just two years from now. Instead, we killed poverty’s momentum. We stopped that freight train’s crash, and the clients and everyone involved in this system did something remarkable – they reversed the momentum. From 2015 to the latest preliminary numbers from last November, SNAP participation went from 47,000 to 43,500 people. Our first four years in office were spent working like crazy to stop the descent into poverty, only to watch helplessly as 7,000 more people joined the ranks. Thanks to many people and many factors, it took just a quarter of that time to reverse half of that damage. There are a number of forces at play here, ranging from vigilance against fraud to rising incomes in both the private and public sectors, new jobs in both the commercial and federal employment ranks, and more families helping their loved ones and encouraging them with opportunity.
If we can maintain this rate of reversal … If these factors continue, along with the new programs and policies I’ve discussed tonight, there is hope that within 10 years, the SNAP program on Guam will work the way it’s supposed to work – as a temporary safety net for those who fall on bad times, and not as a trap that ensnares families into an economic vicegrip.
While that was happening, another segment of our government joined others to make a meaningful impact on the sustainability of our natural resources. There are many places we can go with this discussion, because much has been done by many people to make sure that the next 10 years are spent ensuring a beautiful existence for the next 1,000 years on Guam. But in the interest of time, and to underscore how important this one program is, I’m going to give it the spotlight. In the campaign of 2010, I promised that we would plant 10,000 trees as a solution to soil erosion, runoff, and other pollution to our air, land, and ocean resources. It was my pet project, so I got involved in the action in many different places throughout Guam these past six years. Imagine my surprise when I asked for an update on whether we met our goal – and the Department of Agriculture confirmed that we planted 300,000 trees covering two new forests in southern Guam that, within 30 years, will completely change whole ecosystems in and around the forests. I’ve tasked the Agriculture department to identify critical areas of public property up and down the coast line to replicate this effort. And I want to thank everyone who planted a tree – all of you activists – all of you volunteers and workers – all of you students from George Washington High and elsewhere – you did something that people hundreds of years from now will continue to benefit from.fanc
From the productive to the destructive – the chaotic disorder criminals have left in their wake is the greatest impediment to our progress. We confronted a wave of lawlessness that swept through our first two years in office with a message for the criminals – we will be relentless in pursuit. The message came across, and the bold and open disrespect for the law at least reverted to the normal caution criminals take. The nightly news reports of brazen lawlessness soon became weekly reports. Then when we started seeing the police patrols in full force at night and during the day, it became harder for criminals to act. And when we added major drug busts, and a crackdown on drunk driving and traffic crimes, it seemed a bit easier to leave the house for work and worry less about our safety. But every few weeks, some young punks will remind us of the stupidity and the disrespect that lingers. And when the scene from Straight Outta Compton was reenacted in Harmon, I had enough.
It has become crystal clear to me that no matter what help we offer, there are a few people among us who just won’t stop hurting others and taking what isn’t theirs. The only way to get through to these criminals is to meet their aggression head on with the full force of the law. So we started by shipping a bunch of criminals back to where they came from. No longer our problem. And make no mistake about it – with the support we find from the new Trump administration, we are going to rid this island of many more criminals. The message couldn’t be more clear to guests of this island who hurt others – you have a choice to shape up now, or we will ship you out, never to step foot on this paradise again.
Then there are our citizens who, unfortunately, we cannot deport when they’re convicted of crime. I am sick and tired of having to take resources that could be spent on children just so we can babysit and feed you in prison. And after every opportunity we are offering you to make a better life for you – you go and hurt someone or damage or take what isn’t yours – second chances won’t exist. I will not pardon you. As a matter of fact, I will ask the attorney general to pursue sentences that last until you have truly been rehabilitated. This is the age of personal responsibility. The era of entitlement for people who have choices between right and wrong is over.
Luckily, people are making better choices when it comes to their health. The anecdotal evidence is that we see many more people engaged in many more physical activities than we’ve seen since car rides became our main mode of transportation. Non-stop outreach is leading to better choices for our diets. These are promising trends that will end up preventing the onset of disease and the expensive medical care that goes with it.
There is so much more to tell you – so many more details to everything I just went through – and so many more unmentioned achievements, trends, and programs to share with you. But, I think we’ve made our point clear tonight. The state of our island is strong. And it is the people of Guam who are responsible for our fortunate situation, despite everything the federal government has thrown in our faces to stop our progress from happening.
There are finally some bright spots appearing in our relationship with the federal government. First, let me just say that our issues with Washington have nothing to do with our servicemen and women of our military stationed here. You are part of this island. You are welcome into our family. And we embrace you as our own.
My colleagues in the Republican Governors Association spent some time together last week. We discussed Medicaid equity, they heard Guam’s story, and we may see some relief from that problem. There is promise from the Trump administration that the heavy hand of the federal government may, for once, respect our proven capability to answer and solve problems. It is not without notice that these problems often originate from the federal bureaucracy, only to be served upon us with fines for non-compliance, and lectures about our island way of life interfering with our obedience to the federal way.
The U.S. EPA and the Justice Department have been so quick to lay blame for the contamination of the Lonfit River and the air quality from the Cabras Power Plants on the people of Guam. There is no doubt that we needed to close the Ordot Dump and find a better way of reducing waste. I agree that we need to modernize our power system with cleaner sources of energy. But I wonder if the bureaucrats ever asked themselves how the people of Guam, who preserved paradise for 4,000 years suddenly trashed it in just 50. I’ll get back to this subject.
It’s a good thing there are new secretaries of the EPA and Veterans Affairs, because we finally have leaders who won’t ignore two questions. First, why has the federal government been ignoring its obvious culpability for Agent Orange and its longterm effects on our health, including the cancer it has caused among many veterans. And second, how long does the EPA expect us to believe that the brown tree snake wiped out our native birds. If it is true that native birds don’t stand a chance because they don’t fly, then why do so many chickens cross the road?
And lets have an honest and critical discussion on this caution from federal sympathizers that we should be quiet about our grievances. That we should simply take what is dished out by people we never once cast a vote for. And why? They will say that we need the federal government more than it needs us. Even if that were true, what kind of Americans would we be if we did not grieve to our administering power for “Cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world; For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent … for declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.” These were among the words that gave birth to the American nation. So how is it un-American to question why we are paying for federal mandates we had no hand in creating? Or an immigration treaty that we pay for. And while we get to pay for all these fancy political inventions of Congress, the federal government has, to date, never brought up the rent they should have been paying for the use of one third the land mass of paradise.
So, to answer the federal sympathizers … on the financial side alone, we bear the lopsided burden. The amount of money we pay for the bills the federal government left on our table will easily replace the annual federal contribution to Guam. By the way, why are we still paying $4 million a year for the DOE outside receiver to keep telling us how to solve something that we solved a few years ago? And if this receiver was so darn good at its job, how does it justify to the feds that it’s taking this long to do its job? I’m calling on the Public Auditor to go into DOE and audit the third party and federal programs.
And we haven’t even included the fines we’re forced to pay for violations of environmental regulations that 1) were designed for a landmass of 48 contiguous states, and 2) if we’re honest about responsibility, then I’d be careful about the one finger they’ve got pointed at us, because the other four have the right answer.
Really, we’re all fed up. Our people should not be treated this way. The federal court has tested all the patience left in the attorney general and I. Hearing after hearing, no matter what we do to make right by our people and their health, the Court is unrelenting in sticking it to our people and letting an outside receiver make ridiculous profit at our expense. The last straw, senators, was when the Court instructed the receiver to break the law of this Legislature – which Congress has given plenary authority over local matters – and then instructed a violation of our bond covenants. The overreach of this aggressive, totalitarian Court not only destroys the political freedom accorded by our right of self government, it has exposed this government to major risk.
That was the last straw. Last Friday, I received confirmation that the Attorney General has filed our lawsuit against the United States in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. We are suing the federal government for its responsibility over the true source of contamination of our natural resources. I know one thing is for sure … if we find Agent Orange, other military grade contaminants, and airplanes from the 1940s in the first layer of that Dump, it’s going to be very hard for the Justice Department to say that we put those there.
There are amazing things happening thanks to the people of Guam. The federal government has been welcomed to join in our efforts toward prosperity, but instead has chosen – as it has for decades – to do whatever it takes to stifle our progress. We can’t have that. We have to stand up for ourselves. And none of us should be afraid. We faced such an uncertain future just a few years ago, and we got through it on our own.
So the next time someone makes fun of our island, or ridicules our effort, or diminishes all that makes us happy … I want you to be able to look around this island … then look ‘em straight in the eye and say, proudly … “We did this without you.” And true to the spirit of the Chamorro, that doesn’t mean the federal government isn’t invited to join in our prosperity. Perhaps we can be the ones to teach the bureaucracy how progress is accomplished.
These are exciting times, my fellow citizens, my brothers and sisters. To those of you who’ve led achievement this far, I ask you to keep your eye on the future and move this island forward, pulling up as many citizens willing to work, willing to learn, willing to contribute to their families and to Guam. After six years, I think we’ve laid the groundwork, set the trajectory, and started this engine to begin its course from the train’s collision site with poverty.
In these final two years, my mission is to gather up everyone else stuck under poverty’s debris, convince them that hope is on that train, that we made the train strong and secure, we off loaded doubt, and they don’t have to worry – there’s a new conductor who knows to go in the right direction. If they ask me how we repaired the train … who helped us? I hope to empower them with the truth. We did it. We did it ourselves. Some people passed by and snickered, telling us we’d never figure it out. Wave at them when our Chamorro train passes them on the road, and don’t ever, for a single second, believe that the mistakes we made somehow make us inferior to those who’ve had the luxury of time to stop and point at the splinter in our eye. Together – and through constructive and focused vision, this train will carry our children to the frontier. And when they speak of the spirit of the Chamorro people – it will have nothing to do with entitlement, impediment, or resignation. They will speak of our fighting spirit and our fearlessness to face a future of our making.
Si Yu’us fan-binendisi ham todu. God bless you. Good night. Hu guaiya hao todu. I love you all.