By Troy Torres
(Tumon, Guam) Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero decided to break the gubernatorial tradition of declaring Black Friday a holiday this year. She said the decision was a matter of fiscal responsibility. GovGuam employees, therefore, need to report to work as usual today. If you want to take the day off to go shopping, you'll need to sign for annual leave, unlike the vacations Ms. Leon Guerrero's director of communications Janela Carrera took.
The last public estimates placed the price tag of a public holiday declaration at around $800,000. Most of the additional costs are for the amount of holiday pay paid to essential employees, such as nurses, doctors, and law enforcement personnel who would work holidays.
But if this decision truly were about saving money, one could question the governor's hiring spree leading up to Black Friday.
Ms. Leon Guerrero just hired two deputy directors for two small agencies: Adrian Cruz will be the deputy director of the Department of Agriculture, and Michelle Lastimoza will be the deputy administrator of the Guam Environmental Protection Agency. Together they will pull a ballpark of nearly $200,000 in salary and benefits.
Then there's Ms. Leon Guerrero's recently-hired policy director, Carlo Branch, who is paid $105,485 in salary and benefits.
Some positions recently filled aren't so obvious, such as the $77,034.23 special projects coordinator hired at the Agency for Human Resources Development director's office.
On her staff, the governor has retained the services of two legal counsels, one of whom is her son in law, Haig Huynh, who does not even have a full license to practice law in Guam. He is paid $160,511.23 in salary and benefits.
Her recent hiring decisions cost the taxpayers about half a million dollars. When you add in the $400,000 she wants to use to pay the airfare and accommodations for 100 people to go to FestPac in Hawaii, she clearly has outpaced the cost of a public holiday and erased any notion of fiscal responsibility.
It would be more correct for the governor to state that she could not declare Black Friday a public holiday because she already spent that money on salaries and travel costs.
These examples of runaway spending in the Leon Guerrero administration are just the tip of the iceberg in demonstrating her administration's true fiscal policy. Her own travel costs, the pricetag of executive security detail and travel with her, contracts for services, and her hiring spree that challenges the shopping sprees happening today tell the story of a banker governor, who is not as committed to fiscal austerity as she says she is.
The math on this administration's handling of government finances becomes fuzzier and fuzzier as the administration ages. Spending is one thing; tax overpayments and taxation are another.
Shoppers this morning may notice that the sales this Black Friday may not be as joyous as they were in years past. Inflation may be one thing, but the governor's beloved 25 percent increase to the business privilege tax more likely is to blame for the burden on shoppers.
So, if the government has that much more money flowing from the single-largest revenue stream under its belt, and if the governor is tightening the flow of cash from that belt, then why haven't all the tax refunds been paid yet?