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Gov responds with line-item vetoes to budget changes

Gov. Togiola Tulafono has voiced his “disappointment” in the Legislature’s decision to “zero-out” funding for two government offices — who are now without funds for the new fiscal year — as well as eliminating funds for other programs that provide for the health, safety and the welfare of the general public.

The governor made his disappointment known in a Sept. 30 cover letter to the Fono leadership. In his letter he said that the final FY 2013 budget of $454.85 million has been signed into law; however,  amendments made by the Fono hiking money for some ASG programs and offices were line-item vetoed.

The Fono had cut $6.8 million from the budget  by taking certain amounts from departments, offices, and programs. The $6.8 million is the total amount of money that ASG was to receive under so-called unpledged interest of the tobacco settlement.

These cuts were then restored in a FY 2013 $6.8 million supplemental bill, but that was rejected last Thursday by the Senate. Without the supplemental, there are no funds for the Department of Information Technology and the American Samoa Economic Stimulus and Recovery Office (ASESRO) for the new fiscal year, which began yesterday.

Additionally, funds for other ASG departments and programs have been reduced.

“...I wish to articulate my sincere disappointment in the Legislature’s decision to zero-out the budgets of a number of necessary and valuable government departments and programs and to cut funding to departments that provide for the health, safety and welfare of the public,” the governor wrote in his Sept. 30 letter to the Fono.

The Fono not only cut funds for the IT Department and ASESRO but also transferred these two agencies to the governor’s office.

The governor explained that the IT department has provided a number of valuable services to the government and the public. Additionally, it has lead the charge to move government services, transparency and efficiency in American Samoa forward.

He said removing all funds for this department will prevent American Samoa from providing basic technology based services enjoyed by people in nearly every other jurisdiction in the U.S. and it will effectively end all organized meaningful efforts to bring ASG into the information age.

Likewise, eliminating funds to ASESRO will virtually ensure that ASG “will not be able to provide sufficient monitoring and accountability to federal partners for projects that were funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” the governor said.

He said this is truly unfortunate as the ASESRO was well staffed and well positioned to continue to scrutinize and report on stimulus projects, as is required by federal law.

“Finding available positions for government employees displaced by these decisions may not be possible,” he said.

Also “disconcerting” to the governor are the Fono’s decisions to reduce FY 2013 appropriations to agencies and programs such as Department of Public Safety ($500,000);  Education Department ($394,000); Scholarship Program ($500,00); Public Works Department ($500,000) and reduce ASG subsidy to LBJ Medical Center by $1 million.

“From crime prevention and law enforcement, to education, hospital services and our roads, our people will be receiving far less from their government than they have gotten in years past and have come to expect,” said Togiola.

Perhaps funding for some of these important programs and departments will be bolstered by future supplemental appropriations, but for now it is unclear how these essential services will be wholly funded for FY 2013, said Togiola.

When the Fono reduced the ASG subsidy to LBJ that $1 million was then re-allocated to other programs, departments, and agencies. However, the governor was not pleased with the action and line-item vetoed all of them.

For example, the Fono gave the Election Office an additional $100,000 to assist with this year’s general election, which was already proposed a $200,000 budget. Togiola said he has vetoed this allocation, because there is no justification for the hike provided, nor was any supplemental request made to the governor’s office by the Chief Election Officer.

Togiola also line item vetoed a portion of the bill which allocates additional funds to the Small Village/Water Fund, eliminating the entire amount. The administration had proposed $100,000 for this fund and the $140,000 in excess allocated by the Fono came with no information or reasoning for proposing the increase, said Togiola.

“Allowing a 140% increase to the budget of any department, agency, project or fund without particulars or any explanation is unsound and unwise budget policy,” he explained. Because of the importance of this fund, Togiola said he will work to ensure that a supplemental appropriation is submitted to the Fono to restore the $100,000.

He also said the Legislature’s proposed appropriation of $329,500 to satisfy the Pacific International Engineer (PIE) judgement, $10,000 for the Aunu’u water tank, $50,000 for Manu’a Dispensary, $50,000 for the Territorial Administration on Aging and $68,000 for the Agriculture Department were also line item vetoed.

With regards to the PIE court judgement, Togiola said the lack of details and an explanation as to the amount proposed require that this appropriation be disapproved. He said the court judgement is about $321,000 and in August this year, $25,000 was paid by ASG to plaintiff in accordance with an order of the court. (The $25,000 was to pay funeral expenses of company’s owner Warren Fisher).

Togiola said the money proposed for PIE by the Fono was in excess of the original judgement and it is unclear whether the money already paid toward satisfaction of this judgement had been taken into account.

ASG “can not risk appropriating funds in excess of what has been ordered by the court in this or any case,” he said, adding that other proposed appropriations were also vetoed because no information and evidence accompanied them to show that these appropriations were either necessary or meritorious.

The governor didn’t comment about the Fono’s action approving only four months in FY 2013 to operate the American Samoa Power Authority, whose officials are to return to the Fono in January next year to discuss the rest of its budget.