Joint Fono budget hearings set to begin next week
The Fono will hold joint hearings in the Senate chambers to review the American Samoa Government’s $456.30 million budget for fiscal year 2014.
It was announced during yesterday’s Senate session that budget hearings are set to begin next week Wednesday and the calendar for when each department, agency and office is scheduled to appear will be released later this week.
The FY 2014 budget bill was introduced in both the Senate and House this week. The Fono must pass a final version of the budget and send it to the governor for his approval before 12-midnight on Sept. 30, 2013. The new fiscal year starts the next day.
The FY 2014 budget is funded with $95.03 million in local revenue; $23.02 million in U.S. Department of Interior Grant-in-Aid; $10.04 million in Capital Improvement Projects fund; $106.08 million in Special Federal Grants; and $222.11 million in the Enterprise Fund.
While tax collection makes up the largest portion of local revenue with $71.86 million projected to be collected in FY 2014, other sources of local revenue cited in the budget include $1.10 million in licenses and permits; $3.75 million in ‘fees and fines’; $5.60 million under ‘Indirect-cost’; $6.38 million in charges for services (including rents and leases) and $2.6 million in ‘miscellaneous income’.
Under the Miscellaneous income, ASG is expecting to collect $1.2 million in interest under provision two of the Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement. This is American Samoa’s share that is not assigned to pay its loan from the U.S. government.
ASG’s revenue forecast is expected to be the subject of many questions from lawmakers during budget hearings as this has been the case in past years, with the Fono trying to get a clear explanation as to how the government reached these numbers, especially in corporate and individual income taxes.
Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga had informed the Fono the director of the Office of Budget and Planning, Commerce Department director, the ASG Treasurer and a representative of the Governor’s Office were charged with the responsibility of forecasting government revenue.
“I am confident that the revenues projected by this group are credible, based on our economic outlook and bolstered by our efforts as outlined in this budget to create a better business climate,” he wrote in his cover letter that included the budget submission.
However, the governor pointed out that the director of the ASG Budget Office “made the final decision whether to adopt the forecasted revenues in compliance” with provisions of local law, said Lolo.
The Legislative Financial Office has been collecting financial reports in preparation for the budget hearings. Some of the financial reports have been received by the LFO while other information is awaiting submission by the executive branch.
During yesterday’s House session Rep. Va’amua Henry Sesepasara requested that directors bring with them during budget hearings their organizational charts for thorough review. He says he would like to see specific areas dealing with employees’ positions.
Meanwhile, the governor told directors during a recent cabinet meeting that they must be on island during the budget hearings and only they are to to appear before the Fono to answer questions on the budget — and not a deputy director.
In past years, lawmakers complained that some directors were off island resulting in the review of that department’s budget being postponed, forcing the Fono to reschedule other departments or offices to fill the time slot that was vacant.
The Fono will only accept testimony from directors during budget hearings, unless a good explanation is provided such as the director is ill or off-island for medical reasons.
Directors were also informed by the governor to abide by the Fono’s dress code: male directors must have a tie and female directors are to wear puletasi.
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