ONLY FOUR-MONTH ASG FY 2013 BUDGET BEING CONSIDERED
The Fono’s joint budget committee is scheduled to meet this morning to work out final language for the fiscal year 2013 budget for the American Samoa Government after last Friday’s joint meeting was canceled.
The joint budget committee debate and review last Thursday was closed to the news media and the public, and it remains unclear as to why the joint committee took this historical action, when in past years, news reporters and anyone else who chose to be there were allowed to listen in.
A majority of the joint committee members at the Thursday budget review endorsed giving the government only a four month budget for FY 2013, but the language regarding this decision is something that needs to be ironed out before the final budget is reported on from the committee.
Two lawmakers say the joint committee opted to approve only four months because there are some issues that are not clear from the administration, and among them is the $6.8 million in the tobacco settlement, which Attorney General Fepuleai A. Ripley Jr. testified about last week during his office’s budget hearing, saying this money is being allocated to repay an ASG loan from the federal government.
The $6.8 million windfall — which is the so call un-pledged interest from the tobacco settlement — is listed as part of the local revenue to fund the budget.
Lawmakers say that approving only four months will allow the incoming administration time to review status of the ASG funds and then come before the new Legislature next year to review the entire budget of FY 2013.
MALEMO DESCRIBES FONO FY 2012 BUDGET AS “TKO”
Prior to holding their closed door budget debate, the joint committee conducted a review of the Fono’s FY 2013 proposed budget of $6.7 million, which is an increase of just over $500,000 from the current budget of $6.1 million.
Testifying for the Fono leadership was Fofoga Solia with the Legislative Finance Office, and when questioned by Rep. Taotasi Archie Soliai as to the current status of the Fono’s budget, Solia claimed the budget is doing well for FY 2012.
However, Taotasi appeared unconvinced of the reply, and asked ASG Budget and Office Planning director Malemo Tausaga, who attends all budget hearings, for an answer.
Malemo replied that the Fono budget is not doing well at all, adding that the joint budget committee had asked the current status of spending for other ASG departments and agencies. He said that before the end of the current fiscal year — which closes on Sept. 30 — the Fono’s budget is projected to be in the red.
The director went on to point out that Fono spending has already exceeded its current approved budget but he continues to work on making sure that lawmakers get their pay checks as well as their office allowance because of the administration’s respect for the Fono.
But the truth of the matter is that the Fono’s budget is “TKO”, said Malemo responding to questions from other lawmakers.
Taotasi said he raised this issue because the Fono goes after the spending of other government entities, but he wanted to get a clear picture of Fono spending. He said it's clear from Malemo’s testimony that the Fono has overspent its approved budget allocation in FY 2012.
Taotasi said he is saddened by the fact that although the Fono has the responsibility of creating and passing laws, yet it's also the Fono that is not complying with the law, when it comes to spending within its approved budget.
Included in the Fono’s FY 2013 budget proposal is a supplemental request totaling $200,000 which includes $150,000 to finish the Fono's IT building expected to be completed by November this year.
Initial funding for the two-story IT building, which included construction and its “Paperless MIS System” project, of $500,000 came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, through allocation from the ASG stimulus office.
Sen. Velega Savali Jr. suggested the Fono maintain its current budget ceiling of $6.1 million for the new fiscal year and have the $500,000 increase be reallocated to the FY 2013 budget for the Territorial Administration on Aging (TAOA).
He said this $500,000 can be the ASG contribution to assist with TAOA programs for the elderly. However, Sen. Fuata Dr. Tagiilima Iatala noted that if the Fono’s current budget is already in the red and the fiscal year is not yet over, that means the Fono still needs this additional $500,000 for FY 2013.