Fono News: Governor calls special session for Monday
Just hours after the Fono officially ended the 32nd Legislature's 3rd regular session yesterday morning a communique to Fono leaders from Gov. Togiola Tulafono was received, calling for a special session to convene Monday for not more than 30 calendar days.
Senate President Gaoteote Palaie Tofau, knowing the administration's appropriations bills for the LBJ Tropical Medical Center were either rejected or pending in both Fono chambers, had just told senators that morning no word had been received from the governor calling for a special session.
According to the governor’s communique, the special session's agenda will include administration bills that were submitted in the 3rd session to appropriate $10 million to fund the LBJ Tropical Medical Center's off-island medical referral program and authorization for ASG to enter into a loan agreement with the American Samoa Government Employees’ Retirement Fund for $8 million to go to the hospital to fund health care needs of the Territory.
Togiola proposes both administration bills be repaid by taxpayers with increased excise taxes on beer, alcohol, tobacco and cigarettes, increasing business license fees, a new $2,000 corporate tax and a new 4% wage tax.
The House version of the $8 million loan bill was rejected this week by the Senate while the $10 million bill remains pending in the Fono.
Senior Fono staffers told Samoa News yesterday the senators will never agree to any new taxes and if the House approved the Senate's $2 million refinance loan measure with new tax hikes, it would be rejected. The House tabled the bill on Thursday due mainly to disagreement between House members, over whether to add a hike in taxes for alcohol, beer and tobacco to fund the refinance loan.
The administration also wants the special session agenda to include the bill seeking to amend current law to dissolve the hospital authority, its board of directors and the chief executive officer and return to hospital back to the government under the Health Department.
This proposal was also submitted during the last session and remains pending in the House committee while it has yet to be introduced in the Senate.
“I am confident that you and your colleagues recognize the urgent need to consider these important matters,” said Togiola, who pointed out that the $3 million loan bill signed into law last month to stabilize the finances of the hospital, “was merely a temporary solution to an immediate fiscal emergency.”
Last month, the hospital was allocated $3 million through a loan from the Workmen’s Compensation Account that will be repaid by taxpayers through a new 2% wage tax.
“If permanent solutions to address continuing fiscal conditions at the Medical Center are not put in place promptly, the ability of the Medical Center to provide adequate medical care and services to the public will quickly be in jeopardy again,” he said. “We cannot wait until the start of the next regular session [in July] to address these matters.”
He also said the second payment of $1.5 million from the $3 million loan for the hospital will be made in two weeks time and this should allow the hospital to operate until the end of April. “After that, the future of the… Medical Center... becomes less certain,” he said.
Togiola then urged the Fono to “carefully consider and approve returning control” of the Medical Center to the Health Department. “This will allow for such reorganization and re-allocation of resources as is necessary to reduce administrative costs and improve the operational efficiency at the hospital,” he said.
“There is no question that we must work together swiftly to ensure that the Medical Center’s financial state is secured over the long term. So that, at the very least, our people will continue to receive the type and quality of medical care to which they have become accustomed,” he said.
Confirmation of executive appointments to statutory boards, councils and commissions is on the agenda, said Togiola, but did not specify the appointments.
PACIFIC HORIZONS SCHOOL COMMENDED
A Senate Resolution commending and congratulating Pacific Horizons Schools’ students for their high performance on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) and SAT was approved on Thursday.
Specifically, Pacific Horizons' ninth to eleventh graders scored 16% higher than the national average and their seniors scored 1887 on the SAT well above the national average score of 1488.
“...enrollment at Pacific Horizons has increased, academics have skyrocketed, and high test scores are a testimony to the high quality curriculum taught at the school,” according to the resolution, sponsored by Sen. Galeai Tu’ufuli.
“...the Senate commends and extends its congratulations to Pacific Horizons..for the all around high qualify education taught, received and demonstrated by students at Pacific Horizons,” the resolution states in part.
The private school announced this achievement last month in a press release . (See Samoa News edition Feb. 10 for more details.)