By Eric Rosario
(Tamuning, Guam) Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero doubled down on her 'my-way-or-the-highway' pace of facilitating the payments of federal cash and unemployment relief to Guam residents today. She vetoed Bill No. 333-35, which would have placed reporting and programmatic guidelines on her administration to get funding to the people faster, and to publicly account for those funds.
"Federal [f]unds granted to the states and territories already come with mandatory timelines, and the methods to operationalize federally funded programs," the governor wrote in her objections to the bill, which passed the legislature unanimously. "A local statute commanding the Executive Branch to do what federal law already prescribes should not confuse these processes."
Those so-called mandatory timelines have wavered by the governor's own accounts. When the federal CARES Act first passed, providing federal cash and unemployment relief to American residents, the governor said the money would be in the hands of the people within two to three weeks. A week later, her administration said it would be ready in three to four weeks. Last week, the governor moved the timeline to the end of May.
As her timelines to the people moved, several senators proposed ways to leverage local money to provide direct cash relief to residents. She rejected those proposals and even begged Speaker Tina Muna Barnes to hold off on calling the Legislature into session with promises of her administration's progress on the implementation of the CARES Act. Those promises have, thus far, remained empty.
Congressman Michael San Nicolas also proposed creative ways for the local government to pay cash relief to all eligible recipients on Guam, and to begin paying a portion of the weekly unemployment entitlements. The governor rejected those proposals as well, promising she would get federal money into the hands of recipients quickly.
Sen. Therese Terlaje, who authored Bill No. 333-35, spoke ferociously on the floor of the legislature about her reservations that the Executive Branch had the matter under control, and sought to provide the governor with resources to help expedite payments to recipients.
"While I appreciate the additional personnel flexibility you seem to provide under the measure as passed, this is authority I already have under the Organic Act of Guam," Ms. Leon Guerrero stated in her veto message.
Major portions of the legislation would have required transparency in the implementation of the programs, and accountability of funds expended. Other senators have called on the governor and her administration to open its books to the white hot light of public scrutiny, but to no avail.