Senate and House approve their own versions of FY 2014 budget of $456.3 million
Both the Senate and House have approved in third and final reading their respective versions of the new fiscal year 2014 budget, which totals $456.3 million, and the bills include amendments giving the Fono a budget increase of close to $1 million by cutting funding from other budget programs and reallocating them to the Legislature.
During the Saturday sessions, the Senate unanimously approved the budget in a 13-0 vote, while the House approved the budget with a 13-2 vote. The pair who voted “no” are Reps. Faimealelei Anthony Allen and Toeaina Faufano Autele.
Prior to the House vote, Rep. Tuumolimoli Saena Moliga moved to restore the $200,000 for next month’s Education Conference which was cut by the Fono, saying the conference — which was originally allocated $500,000 — is an important event to the territory.
However, House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale reminded lawmakers of House rules, that once a bill is read in its entirety in third reading, no other amendments are to be made nor any other debate allowed.
Savali said the only action is to vote on the bill. He added that during the Education Department budget review, DOE officials testified that they needed around $200,000 or so to conduct the education conference next month.
The Senate and House now go through the usual protocol of approving each other’s budget version, with plans to have one final version endorsed at least by tomorrow before it is sent to the governor for review and approval.
As reported by Samoa News last Friday, there were nine projects under the Special Programs budget category effected by the cuts made by the Fono Joint Budget Committee last Thursday to make up the $985,000 that was reallocated to the Fono.
However, revised amendments given to lawmakers in both the Senate and House before the bill when through second reading last Friday shows only seven projects under Special Programs being victims of cuts — one of them being the Governor’s Office.
Originally on the chopping-block list were $50,000 from the Veterans Stadium Improvement and $100,000 from the local road maintenance subsidy; however, in the end, the two projects were spared.
The Fono reduced the following budgets:
• Governor’s Office by $85,000 down to $4.99 million;
• Sports Complex subsidy by $100,000 down to $235,000;
• Treasury Project Development by $100,000 down to $900,000;
• Amnesty Program Development by $50,000 down to $100,000;
• DOE conference by $200,000 down to $300,000
• Su’igaula Park development by $200,000 down to $300,000
• Election Outreach by $50,000 down to $150,000
• Hotel demolition & clean up by $200,000 down to $300,000
With the amendments made, the Fono’s budget for FY 2014 now stands at $7.69 million with the $985,000 allocated to “materials & supplies” increasing this budget item from $1.22 million to $2.21 million.
At last Friday’s final day of the Fono joint committee budget review, Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono suggested lawmakers consider splitting up the Fono’s budget, giving the House and Senate their own budgets to be controlled by its leaders.
Every year, he said, the Fono faces an overrun and each chamber blames the other; but splitting up the budget for each chamber will result in finding out in the end the cause of the overrun.
Joint Budget Committee co-chair Sen. Laolagi F.S. Vaeao, who is also the chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, said the budget document sets up funds for each chamber including salaries and office allowances for lawmakers, with the Senate President signing off on Senate expenditures and the House Speaker for House expenses.
He said the recommendation by Soliai will be presented to the Fono leadership.
Soliai said this is an important issue for the joint budget committee to consider not only for now, but for future budgets.
During Saturday’s Senate session, Soliai praised comments made last week by Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie during the joint committee review of the Fono’s budget that it’s time for the Fono to control its own annual budget affairs.
The senator said it’s time for the Fono to take a new course heading into the future, dealing with its budget instead of having it controlled and handled by the executive branch. He also agreed with Gaoteote that the Fono is a separate branch of government.
Gaoteote responded that he appreciates the support and he will discuss this matter further with the House leadership and present their view to the governor. He said the Fono has sufficient staff to handle budget matters and it’s time for the Legislature to have complete control of its financial matters.
The Legislative Finance Office — which is the Fono’s budget office — handles all money issues for the Fono.
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