Guam News - Guam News
Guam - A day after the DOA Director announced it, Guam lawmakers Tuesday night formally removed the proposed cuts to firefighter benefits from the Governor's spending cuts Bill #507.
The cuts to GFD benefits were included in the bill after being recommended by the Governor's Spending Cuts Task Force, the Guam Attorney General and the Office of Public Accountability.
None of those recommendations were mentioned by either the Governor or the Senators who, in a display of political theater over the past two days, have scrambled to be first to claim credit for getting rid of any reduction in GFD benefits.
Guam lawmakers have acknowledged to PNC News that firefighters conducted an aggressive lobbying campaign against the cuts. And with the election less than 2 months away, an administration source told PNC News that they had to acknowledge defeat because the reductions in GFD benefits would never have been approved and would have been costly at the polls.
Senator Silva-Taijeron's proposal to substitute savings from the GovGuam telecom contract offered the out the Administration needed, even though the savings are not locked in yet because the procurement award is under protest.
Senator B.J. Cruz has since pointed out that he made that same proposal.
In an email sent directly to Guam firefighters Tuesday, Cruz said he suggested the telecom savings to the Governor 5 months ago but "my suggestion went unanswered," and instead "a Republican Senator now suggests that these same savings offset what the Governor’s bill would have taken from you."
Cruz also pointed out that Senator Silva-Taijeron's proposal is $1.7 million short of what is needed to replace what would have been saved from the GFD cuts.
This political drama began Monday night when DOA Director Benita Mangolna made the first official announcement that GFD benefits would remain un-touched. At the opening of a series of meetings planned on the spending cuts bill she said Sections 12,13, and 14 were being stricken and replaced by Senator Silva-Taijeron's amendment.
However, Governmental Operations Committee Chair Senator Cruz said he would not accept Manglona's statement until he received written notification from the Governor's office requesting the removal of the sections.
Tuesday morning the Governor himself confirmed that the Sections effecting GFD benefits would be removed and savings from the GovGuam telecom contract would be used. Then the Governor went off to a noon meeting with firefighters at the Tamuning station to assure them that their benefits would not be cut.
That effort muted the meaning of last night's hearing at which Guam firefighters were invited to comment on the proposed cuts, even though the Governor and the DOA Director had already announced they were being removed.
Lawmakers went ahead anyway calling for testimony from firefighters who all expressed their opposition to the proposed cuts, with many saying they felt like they were being singled out and that if cuts need to be made, they should be made across the board for all GovGuam employees.
Chief Joey San Nicolas thanked the Governor and Senator Taijeron for finding an alternative to cuts. And he explained the special working conditions that justify the extra benefits Guam Firemen get.
Dim lights Embed Embed this video on your siteSenator Rory Respicio brought the curtain down in the final act by introducing an amendment to strike the benefit reductions, and it passed unanimously, with applause from the firemen assembled in the hearing room.
WHY CUT GFD BENEFITS?
The proposed reductions in GFD benefits pre-date the current budget cutting debate and grew out of recommendations from both the Attorney General and the OPA who recommended reductions in GFD benefits based on fairness and fiscal responsibility.
An August 2011 audit issued by the Office of Public Accountability concluded "Guam Fire Department (GFD) uniformed personnel receive pay and leave benefits surpassing those of all other Government of Guam (GovGuam) employees and which appear inequitable."
An earlier April 2011 opinion from the Guam Attorney General also recommended the elimination of non-productive GFD pay concluding "the Legislature should address the effect of the 61 hour bonus paid solely to firefighters on leave, which the rest of the GovGuam employees may find
unfair, and taxpayers may find too generous."
Among the findings in the OPA audit were that:
* In 2010, 263 firefighters were collectively paid $20.6M, 71% more than their total base salaries of $12.1M. Each received an average of $78K. In 2009, 266 firefighters made $19.2M, 74% more than their base salaries of $11.1M, an average of $73K each.
* Non-productive pay on leave cost GovGuam $6.3 million (M) over the last four fiscal years, an average of $1.6M annually, and the top 10 recipients received amounts ranging from $63,000 (K) to $125K.
* 258 firefighters on leave were paid 62 to 80 non-productive hours beyond the number allowed by law, resulting in questioned costs of $347K for 19,523 hours due to lack of payroll procedures, management review and oversight, and effective information technology controls.
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