Starting April 1, 2023, executive branch employees under the General Pay Plan, will begin to earn 22 percent more in gross pay if Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero signs into law a bill passed last night by the legislature. Their equivalents at the judiciary have been authorized the funding needed for their increase in pay by the Guam Legislature.
Senators did not include their branch of government in the budgetary increase, which will cost taxpayers an additional $50 million a year, or an average of $1,250 per household annually.
The pay raise includes employees already making high salaries, creating an even deeper disparity in pay between the private and public sectors.
“This decision is going to add another $50-plus-million to the annual budget of the government of Guam,” Sen. Joanne Brown said during the Thursday night debate, lamenting the lack of information and detail from the Department of Administration and the Leon Guerrero administration on the raises. She and the other republican senators have been critical of awarding tax dollars to significant pay raises for employees making six-figure annual gross salaries.
“We support the raises for the rank and file employees, sure,” Sen. Chris Duenas told Kandit.
“This doesn’t really help the average person out there,” Ms. Brown said, “and yet, it places such a tremendous burden on the people of Guam! So when the budgets come up and there’s other critical services we can’t fund, I hope you’re gonna figure out how that money’s gonna appear, and how you’re gonna address those needs out there,” she said to those senators aligned with the administration’s push for the blanket raises to the top earners of the government.
The General Plan Pay raises at the 22 percent increase surpasses the raises given to teachers, police officers, and nurses last year.
“This is upside down rather than right-side up,” Ms. Brown said.
Sen. Roy Quinata interrupted Ms. Brown during her speech, to which Ms. Brown replied: “I’m gonna wrap up. I’m almost done. Stop being so smug and snotty.”
Mr. Quinata quipped, “Just like when you got your $169,000 salary.”
The freshman democrat was referring to Ms. Brown’s previous position as general manager of the Port Authority of Guam. An audit revealed that within a six-year period, Ms. Brown received 11 pay raises, nine of which were implemented outside the confines of the law. The seaport, however, is not part of the GPP increase.
The matter turned into a verbal fight on the floor of the legislature, with Brown and Quinata attacking each other.
“You know, some of these colleagues here who just arrived are so rude and obnoxious, making statements of their own reality that’s not factual,” Ms. Brown said.
Ms. Brown wrapped up her remarks, giving the floor to Sen. Jesse Lujan, who had to ask for a recess so that the legislature’s microphones would stop casting to public broadcast. Right before Sen. Amanda Shelton gaveled the legislature into recess, a commotion could be heard behind Mr. Lujan.
The video cameras continued broadcasting without the audio feed, clearly showing Ms. Brown and Mr. Quinata engaged in a heated exchange.
Shortly afterward, five republicans voted against, and eight democrats voted for the funding the governor needs to implement the pay raises beginning April 1.
The authorization comes with a few conditions. The first is that UOG may receive a $1.13 million appropriation for (yet another) pay raise if its Board of Regents does not increase tuition through September 30, 2025. Sen. Chris Barnett succeeded in including this amendment to the bill.
Another of his amendments precludes the governor’s political appointees from receiving any pay raises outside of the GPP for the remainder of the fiscal year.
The legislature, through an amendment to the bill by Sen. Frank Blas, Jr., also is conditioning the pay raises on the governor’s submission of three plans to the legislature:
- A plan for the payment of merit bonuses. The administration has not paid the bonuses since former Gov. Eddie Calvo did in 2012.
- A plan for the payment of overdue increments.
- A plan for the grant relief the governor promised to local businesses in her state of the island address.
Sen. Chris Barnett, who has been critical of the governor’s strong arm tactics on the pay raises, issued the following statement following its passage:
My statement on voting yes on Bill 24-37:
This was a tough decision.
I voted yes on 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.
I know they have struggled to make ends meet, and GPP workers watched from the sidelines as raises were given to positions and people who wouldn’t be able to fully perform their duties without the help of workers in the GPP.
When teachers, nurses and law enforcement received raises, we left behind many of the workers who toil right beside them. They didn’t deserve to be left behind.
These increases were coming one way or another, and while I wish we could have been more surgical in our ability to control how much high earners in the GPP received, I don’t believe we would have been able to do that in a timely manner without risking actions that could end up costing the government even more.
I oversee Education and Public Safety. The Chief of Police and the Superintendent both asked that I support this measure. They told me it was critical to their missions. The last time many of these workers got a meaningful raise was more than a decade ago. Now that we have caught up as much as we can, I don’t think we’ll be able or willing to grant this kind increase again.
With the passage of this bill, I believe we have lifted up just about everyone that we can in the Government of Guam. If we unintentionally left anyone else out of a deserved increase, we can work to address it.
I’m humbled my colleagues supported my amendments to the bill.
The amendments I proffered will protect the honor of the merit system and encourage more people to join it.
I understand the administration uses unclassified hires in some cases to fill critical positions. I also see first hand how hard the staff of our village mayors work, and I made exemptions in my amendment to allow for these workers to receive the raises.
We have gotten way too comfortable circumventing the competitive hiring system. That is to the detriment of workers in the classified system.
The Governor was clear in saying the 22% increase was needed to aid in recruitment and retention.
We have no problems filling unclassified positions, and that’s why I think we should prioritize tenured employees in the classified system. I believe my amendment makes employment in the classified service more attractive. I believe that will help with recruitment and retention.
I’m humbled my colleagues supported my amendment barring tuition hikes at UOG until 2025. This will prevent the University from passing the cost of the raises they asked for on to struggling students who are trying to better themselves for our island.
The Governor not only told us we could afford these increases, but that we would not jeopardize the improvements to critical services all of the people of Guam deserve if we approved them. I am going to hold the administration to that and I am going to work hard to continue trying to improve our island and our government for everyone.
I am proud the Legislature was able to come together to prioritize addressing the state of our schools, and I understand why this issue of pay increases divided us.
But I believe we can unite to address public safety and healthcare in the same way we came together to save our schools and set solutions in place.
Now the challenge before us is to create an environment private sector workers and businesses can thrive in. We have measures coming that will do that. I’ve committed to engaging the private sector for answers to the problems we all face and I ask my colleagues to do the same.
The Governor has said we are entering a new era of prosperity. It is our job to make sure everyone gets their fair share of that prosperity and I promise I take that job seriously. I am not asking you to take my word for it, but I am telling you I am going to work hard to make my actions match my words. God Bless you and God Bless Guam.