While Seattle just opened a fantastic new $165.5 million library, the government of Guam cannot afford an additional $11,000 a year to hire an actual librarian to run the Guam Public Library. The government says that the library is not a priority right now, and must wait for the economy to improve before much needed funding can be appropriated for the library system. While a recently passed law requires the library director to be a qualified professional librarian, the current $55,000 salary is too low to entice any professionals to the island. According to the Civil Service Commission, bumping the salary to $66,000 a year would make recruitment efforts much easier. For an additional $273,000 a year, the library system could afford to reopen four branch libraries in the villages of Merizo, Yona, Barrigada and Agat that closed over four years ago due to budget cutbacks and government furlough programs.
Recent media attention on the long mothballed “Bookmobile” program that quit running almost eight years ago spurred several private companies to donate their services and get the bookmobile back on the road. Matson Navigation really stepped forward in this project, repairing the bookmobile, donating $25,000 to fund the bookmobile program, and pledging continued servicing for the vehicle in the years ahead. Kudos also go to South Pacific Petroleum Company, for donating free fuel for a year to the bookmobile, and Chugach Support Services for prepping the main library building for painting.
Hopefully these public/private partnerships will spur renewed interest in the library, because it is in a terrible state. I’ve often said it, I was aghast at the library when I first came to Guam, and it still depresses me to visit the building: it looks like they haven’t bought a book since 1973, the air conditioning didn’t work for years, mold and mildew where everywhere, the stairwell was unpainted. Basically the place is a mess, and indicative of the poor state of education and cultural facilities on the island.
At yesterday’s Guam Economic Development & Commerce Authority (GEDCA) meeting, the GEDCA board denied Max Havoc a bridge financing movie loan. The executive producer of the film, John Laing, said the bridge financing is no longer needed since principal filming is wrapping up on island. More pressing for the film’s long term prospects is GEDCA’s commitment to guarantee a $1.3 million loan. That loan has been held up because GEDCA has yet to sign off on the loan guarantee, and is a concern of the film’s producers.
Speaking of that whole movie deal, former Congressman Robert Underwood wrote an intelligent editorial on fiscal responsibility in Sunday’s paper which got in a couple digs at the whole idea of enticing movies to Guam. The impetus of his article was a recent visit to Yap, which despite catastrophic damage in last month’s typhoon Sudal, is reluctant to use some of the $50 million in cash reserves the state government has accumulated through prudent economic policy. Wow, $50 million in reserve, saved from a yearly budget of $16 million. It would be like Guam having $1.5 billion on hand, instead of perennially running in the red year after year.
He attributes this deliberate and steady stewardship of the island’s budget to betelnut.
I am serious and I think the Yapese are as well. Chewing requires time to pause and reflect. Every decision is discussed slowly and sometimes endlessly with betel nut chewing almost a ritualistic part of the process. The Yapese are a conservative people who value their resources as a collective responsibility. They are not ostentatious, nor are they swayed by materialistic display. All of the governors are credited with saying, “If you have a dollar, you can only spend a dollar.”
There is no public outcry for government to do things for them. In their recovery from Typhoon Sudal, they are grateful for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance, but there have been villages that turned back Red Cross assistance because it was aimed at only a few families and not the entire community. There are no senators making speeches about spending the money in the bank at this time of dire need. Communities have spontaneously formed work teams to ensure that everyone has some shelter and that the taro is harvested so that food will be available for at least two to three weeks.
When the Asian Development Bank recommended that the government work force be cut by 35 percent, Govs. Tun and Figir did more. The government work force went from 1,000 to 600. When crazy business ventures were proposed for government funding, they ignored them. No salmon farming or movie producing for them. Max Havoc can stay in Guam. Public works projects are limited and carefully scrutinized.
And the results are good. Out-migration to places like Guam and Hawaii is limited. The population is stable, there are reliable public services and there is money in the bank for a rainy day. They are actively discussing whether the recent typhoon qualifies as a rainy day. Imagine the kind of discussion that we would have in Guam if we had $50 million in the bank right now.
It’s an enjoyable and erudite essay from a distinguished educator and politician. More and more, I regret that Bob Underwood lost the election in 2002. I remember at the time there was a lot of bad blood around the election because the Gutierrez wing of the Democratic party refused to endorse Underwood, which probably cost him the election. I certainly never thought Felix Camacho would be elected over Underwood. As it panned out, he has certainly been a sub-par governor, with the acrimony between him and the Lt. Governor, the legislature and the attorney general growing every week. I wonder what Guam would be like today if Underwood had won the election? I know several people would say “Not a thing. Nothing would be different because that is the way of life on Guam.” But then I think about how the world would be a different, better place if George W. Bush hadn’t usurped the presidency from Al Gore in 2000. An election can make a world of difference.