Ignoring voters, short-changing schools


With teachers facing a pay cut—or termination—the question of what voters approved in the 25 percent-for-PSS constitutional amendment is more important than ever.

Voters decided our teachers, students, and schools should have 25 percent of the “general revenues” of the Commonwealth each year. When I voted with the majority to give our schools that solid base of funding, I certainly thought general revenues meant everything the government takes in as taxes.

But the Legislature and the governor have a different idea. They subtract earmarked taxes and other expenses from the total. Taxes like the cigarette excise tax and alcohol container tax, they say, are not part of the “general revenues.”

Of course, this goes against the Governmental Accounting Standards Board definition that “all revenues are general revenues” and “all taxes, even those levied for a specific purpose, are general revenues.”

This is not entirely a legal question; it is more an accounting principle question. The Governmental Accounting Standards Board, by the way, sets the accounting principles used by state and local governments in the United States. But the Commonwealth government has had trouble following those rules: Adverse opinions in the most recent single audit, for 2017, were for lack of adherence to GASB.

Don’t believe me? Read the Single Audit Report. Or, ask OPA or Deloitte. 

This is more than an academic argument between accountants. If the Legislature and the governor had played it straight, PSS would have received over $64 million in this year’s budget. Instead, teachers, students, and schools only got $42 million.

Now, teachers are being forced to choose between a pay cut or termination. In part, because the economy is taking a dive. But, also, because the Commonwealth government decided to ignore the voters and shortchange our schools.

Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan represents the Marianas in the U.S. Congress and chairs the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education.

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