With $550M from Uncle Sam, can Guam afford U.S. exit?
For those who say Guam would be better off being independent from the United States, here’s Doris Flores Brooks’ message for you: “Give me a break.”
Brooks made the statement Friday outside of her role as the island’s elected public auditor, but her statement was an offshoot of a report that came out of her office Friday.
The report listed most federal funds that the government of Guam received in fiscal 2015, and the total exceeded $550 million for the year alone.
That amount represents about 45 percent of the $1.2 billion that GovGuam spent in fiscal 2015.
It would be difficult for GovGuam to afford all the public services, projects and programs it’s expected to provide without more than half of $1 billion in funds from Uncle Sam in a year, she said.
Military spending and federal funding assistance make up the second leg of the island’s economy, after tourism, Brooks said.
“The federal government is a major player here,” she said.
Here are some of the funds GovGuam received from the federal government, according to the report released Friday:
- $109 million for households under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also called food stamps, to pay for food;
- $117 million for Medicaid, insurance for indigent children and other public health programs;
- $65 million for Guam’s public elementary to high schools;
- $67 million for the seaport facilities;
- $43 million for the public housing units and rent vouchers for island families who need housing help;
- $29 million for highway-related projects;
- $34.9 million for the University of Guam;
- $19 million for Guam's international airport; and
- $16 million for Guam Community College.
Guam is far better ahead economically than most of the island nations in the Pacific, she said, because of the territory’s affiliation with the U.S. political family and the protections of law and rule that the United States provides, she said.
Brooks, who is running for re-election, said she has long taken a stance for Guam for U.S. statehood, after “status quo” no longer became part of a future Guam vote on political self-determination.
It’s a view she continues to feel strongly about and which she discussed at a recent talk with students at the University of Guam.
Recent discussions of a possible vote for Guam’s political status options included a forum last month at the University of Guam during the Festival of Pacific Arts.
Guam’s Commission on Decolonization also is expected to meet later this month as part of a process to decide, in consultation with the governor and the Election Commission, whether island voters are ready to vote on the issue.
Guam voters have three options when the issue would be on the ballot.
In addition to statehood, the other options are free association with the United States, as well as an exit, or independence from the United States.
Victoria Leon Guerrero, co-chairperson of the independence task force under the Decolonization Commission, said she doesn’t think there’s enough time to properly conduct an education campaign for the issue to be on the ballot by the General Election in November.
In two years, if island voters are properly informed of what the options mean, a vote on political status would be better, she said.
Leon Guerrero said there has been fear-mongering about what independence could mean for Guam.
When it comes to providing public services for island residents, she said an independent Guam can expand its economy by opening up shipping, tourism and other trade sectors that help the economy grow.
An independent Guam can also charge rent for the military bases, and open up visa-free travel for certain countries, among other options, she said.
And if Guam voters do vote for independence, the United States is obligated under international law to ensure a transition phase in which certain forms of assistance would continue, she said.
The main reason for her support for independence, Leon Guerrero said, is it would give Guam the ability to make its own decisions.
Ron McNinch, an associate professor of public administration at the University of Guam, said in past polls he and his students conducted, public support for independence or free association had been low, and hovered around 6 percent of those surveyed.
Many people in Guam don’t want to give up their U.S. citizenship and U.S. passport, McNinch said.
The reality is the United States owns the government of Guam, he said.
And those who favor an independent Guam aren't realistic in their belief that Guam can kick out the U.S. military bases, or charge them rent, and expect the United States to continue financially supporting Guam, McNinch said.
If Guam really wants to change its political status because island residents can’t vote for president of the United States and don’t have voting members of Congress, there’s another option for that, he said.
He suggested Guam establish a free-association agreement with Alaska so island residents can vote for president and vote for its own voting delegate in Congress.
It’s better to associate with Alaska than geographically closer Hawaii because Alaska doesn’t have state taxes, he said.
McNinch said instead of filing lawsuits, Guam needs to focus its energy on talking to Congress about what the island wants for its political future.
Recent approaches toward greater political muscle for Guam, including filing court cases, is called a bubble-wrap approach, he said.
“We are wasting time talking about bubbles in the bubble wrap and it achieves nothing,” he said.