Guam legislature approves pay raise bill in party-line vote

Photo: The Guam Legislature/Facebook

After three days of marathon special session, Guam senators on Friday night passed an administration-endorsed measure supporting a 22 percent raise to the government’s general pay plan.

The amended version of the bill appropriates US$21.3 million for the general pay plan, which covers all positions not included in the pay structures for nurses, educators, attorneys and executive employees. Senators amended the bill to lower the appropriation from the initial proposal of US$23 million.

The legislature approved Sen. Joe San Agustin’s Bill 24-37 in an 8-5 vote split along party lines. 

Governor Lou Leon Guerrero, who persistently pushed the proposal, is anticipated to sign Bill 24-37 into law.

Eight Democrats gave the nod to the bill, while five Republicans gave it a thumbs-down. Vice Speaker Tina Muna Barnes and Senator Telo Taitage were absent during the voting session.

Senator Will Parkinson, a Democrat, was dismayed that the bill did not receive a unanimous vote.

“There was a lot of talk in this chamber about supporting the workers and I am disappointed that it came down to a party-line vote,” Parkinson said. 

Republicans have been lukewarm on Bill 24-37 even before it reached the floor. They blocked its inclusion in the emergency session agenda, prompting the governor to call a special session to deliberate the measure.

Parkinson said some of the criticisms of this bill “were all over the place,” if not “very contradictory.”

“We hear some of our colleagues arguing that we require merit bonuses before we move on with any of this. And then, we got no money. They opined that we cannot afford this raise. And then, they go out of their way to make it less affordable,” Parkinson said.

The freshman senator recalled that the legislature approved pay raises in 2009 and 2014 when the government of Guam was running a massive deficit.

“Now we are in a surplus situation, with one of the healthiest books I’ve ever seen,” he added.

“It was so disappointing that some in this body used due diligence so selectively just to deny somebody political points or political gamesmanship,” he added, describing the Republicans’ move as “obstruction disguised as due diligence.”

Parkinson’s comments drew the ire of Republican Senator Frank Blas Jr, who didn’t take them sitting down.

“There’s a reason why people are not allowed on this floor when we’re discussing so that we can have frank and open discussions,” Blas said addressing Parkinson. “But if you’re going to display arrogance and immaturity and if you’re going to resort to bullying, what do you say is the kind of legislature you’re working in?”

Blas, a senior member of the legislature, advised Parkinson that disagreements are part of a healthy debate.

“There are times when we are going to argue one way or another, but when a decision is made, you move on,” he said. “I, for one, am going to say, ‘OK that was the vote, move on.’ But don’t attack my colleagues in the way that you did. That’s a fair warning.”

Senator Chris Barnett said he voted for Bill 24-37, despite the “uncertainties of this measure and the information surrounding it.”

“I know for sure that most of the hard-working employees in the general pay plan have deserved for years to be paid fairly for their work despite the failures of their leaders,” Barnett said.  “The governor not only told us we could afford these increases, but that we would not jeopardise the improvements to critical services all of the people of Guam deserve if we approved them and I will hold the administration to that,” he said.