Guam Governor Lou Leon Guerrero on Wednesday painted a buoyant picture of Guam after four years of her tenure that was tested by the COVID-19 pandemic and sustained by an unprecedented stream of federal aid.
Despite the inflation crisis that has shrunk residents’ purchasing power, the governor said the island is headed to a resurgent economy.
“I am proud to report our island is fighting its way forward and getting stronger every day,” Leon Guerrero said in her fourth ‘State of the island’ address delivered before the 36th Guam Legislature.
She announced additional cash aid for struggling residents and a hundred-dollar credit on power bills for Guam’s power ratepayers.
Lou Leon Guerrero proposed a monthly credit of US$100 for Guam’s residential ratepayers in the next five months to offset the cost of power.
“Send me a bill authorising this credit and I will sign it,” the governor urged senators.
The governor said she is working with Sen. Joe San Agustin and the Committee on Appropriations on her proposed power bill relief to help residents meet the rising cost of living.
“Because our government eliminated its general fund deficit and spent less than it collected in each of the last three years, we have the local funds to give our people relief,” she added.
This is the governor’s last state of the island address during this term as she flexes her muscles for this year’s gubernatorial race to seek reelection with Lt. Governor Josh Tenorio.
Leon Guerrero is Guam’s first female governor and the first Democrat to hold the Adelup seat since former Governor Carl Gutierrez ended his term in 2003.
She has been at odds with several members of the legislature over the disbursement of the federal COVID-19 relief funds and confronted split public opinion over her administration’s pandemic-related policies.
“While healthcare systems around the world collapsed, Josh and I made hard choices. We acted decisively, knowing that the right decisions wouldn’t always be the most popular ones,” the governor said.
“I know we live in a time of soundbites and cynicism—and that too often the scope of our challenges is outmatched only by the anger in our politics,” she added.
“But I also understand that Democrat, Republican, or somewhere in between – we all care about the same things – a paycheck that keeps up with the cost of living, safer streets, schools that teach our children well, businesses that thrive, good health care, and a government that works for all of Guam,” she added.
Leon Guerrero said her administration has managed to eliminate the public deficit that has historically burdened the government of Guam.
“For too long, leaders from both parties had perpetuated an era that valued short-term popularity over long-term solutions; a time that failed to look beyond the next paychecque, or the next election. And so predictably, our government’s deficit exploded and tough decisions were left for some other day,” she said.
“But our people demanded change and they trusted us to deliver. In the face of immense challenge, the government’s deficit is gone, tax refunds are being paid in weeks not months, and none of this was achieved by leaving more debt to our children.”
Local economists said the wide safety net from the federal government has not only kept Guam from falling into recession but also brought an unprecedented windfall to the island during the pandemic-triggered economic fallout.
Economists estimated that a total of US$4.5 billion— consisting of US$1.9 billion in rescue and stimulus grants under two sets of coronavirus relief programmes combined with a barrage of federal spending not related to the pandemic —streamed into the Guam economy in 2021.
“As we step out of COVID’s long shadow, I submitted a budget to you driven by fiscal responsibility and hope in our future,” Leon Guerrero told the senators.
“This budget recognises right as well as reality; acknowledging that our general fund revenue collections have repeatedly exceeded our conservative estimates,” she added.
The governor challenged the legislature “to invest in the struggling and the disabled, the fight against violent crime and drugs-the work of healing the sick, nurturing our children, and unleashing the raw power of our economic creativity.”
Noting the public pain caused by the rising cost of living, Leon Guerrero vowed “to do everything in my power as governor to help you and your family through this time.”
She announced plans to put more money directly into the hands of those struggling to make ends meet by extending her administration’s Prugraman Salappe’ to give each qualified resident $500 in new aid.
“This US$500 benefit will help alleviate your rising power bills,” the governor said.
“But if history has taught us anything, it is that no economy is immune to the world’s uncertainties. That’s our private sector Economic Diversification Group is working to bring to our shores new industries that create sustainable jobs for our people,” she said.
“In partnership with Vice Speaker Tina Muna Barnes, we are shoring up our transshipment capabilities. This makes us a more competitive destination for light manufacturing investment, brings down the cost of construction, and creates skilled jobs.
She also said new undersea cables installed off Guam’s shores are literally laying the groundwork for a Guam technology ecosystem.
“Whether it is data centers, app or game development, or bridging regional entrepreneurs and innovators, these cables give us a competitive advantage. And they have gotten the attention of the Googles and Amazons of the world,” the governor said.