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Pacific Daily News, Hagatna

Spending More Than They Take In Is A 'Flaw Of Island Government'

By Joe Murphy

28 March 2005
Copyright © 2005 Pacific Daily News, Hagatna. All rights reserved.

All the territories, commonwealths and assorted islands connected to the United States are in financial trouble. What else is new? It has always been thus.

It may be that islands are not good investments and all suffer from that old island disease - they spend more than they take in. It may be simply that island people don't give two figs about business.

I was thinking about this flaw of island government when I was reading about Puerto Rico, the Caribbean island commonwealth. Gov. Acevedo Vila has proposed an elimination of more than 23,000 government jobs and the closure of several agencies to pull Puerto Rico out of a cycle of budget deficits and debt.

He told the media that his $9.7 billion budget represented a $370 million reduction in spending. Weird thinking. Why doesn't he do like Guam does - borrow more money or ask the United States to forgive our debts?

I try not to deal in rumors in this space. Resorting to high-blown hype from the factual strata of beauty shops just isn't my style as a journalist.

The other day my wife Marianne came home with her hair done and this interesting story in tow. It seems, she said, that Home Depot is considering opening a store on Guam. Wonderful, I said. Who can I get to confirm or deny this?

So, a couple of days later we're having lunch at the Jamacian Grill in downtown Hagåtña and a man by the name of Dutch Zuurmond appeared on the scene. Dutch is truly Dutch in origin. He also is an employee of Home Depot.

So I asked him. "Hey, Dutch, I've heard this rumor about Home Depot opening a store on Guam. Is there any truth to this?"

He looked at me and smiled that enigmatic Netherland smile and said: "Maybe."

Dutch is government account manager at Home Depot and this is his second trip to Guam. He would admit only that they are "looking into the idea!"

Home Depot is BIG. If they did come to Guam, they would rock building supply business, as well as home gardening. He said they did have a store on Kaui, in Hawaii, which has a considerably smaller population than Guam.

He also said that they have a total of 1,800 stores across the country and Canada and Mexico, and open a new one every 42 hours. Another thing: They do a huge amount of business with the Chinese.

I also had lunch with an old friend of mine, Teddy Porter, who lived on Guam for many years. He was into mapmaking, and the "Green Line" concept - having a green line on Guam directing tourist drivers around the island.

Teddy is one of those Southern boys, from Alabama and Florida. He told me that he is just about finished with a novel, one that really sounds interesting. Called "The Kingdom of Nod," it is about teenagers and young people taking their spring break in Florida.

Porter promised to send me a first copy and I will let you know if it is readable. The book sounds a little religious, but the title may fool you.

Another island bit: Why do they always sound so familiar? The state-owned utility in the U.S. Virgin Islands has warned that it would not supply power or water for new schools or health clinics unless the government starts paying its $16 million debt to the company.

Two public hospitals and the education department are among government institutions that are in debt to the semi-autonomous Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority.

Years ago - probably 15 years back - I wrote about this novel way of utilizing our deep ocean water for cooling. Now lawmakers in Hawaii are actually doing something about it. They passed a measure that eases the way for technology that uses cold water piped from the depths of the Pacific Ocean to cool Hawaii's tropical heat.

Known as seawater air conditioning, this method of cooling could reduce the state's dependency on fossil fuels by bringing down electricity needs.

Guam's politicians should keep a careful eye on this development, because this island has deep water close to the shore. Ah, if the hotels on Tumon could only cut down on air conditioning, they could afford to charge less per room and attract more customers.

Joe Murphy is a former editor of the Pacific Daily News.

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