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Fono approves FY13 budget after cutting $46.8 million

Supplemental bill fails to pass in Senate
fili@samoanews.com

The Senate and House have approved the final FY 2013 budget, which stands at just over $454 million, with the Senate on Thursday rejecting the $6.8 million supplemental budget for FY 2013. This leaves two agencies with no funds for the new fiscal year and financially dependent on the Governor’s Office.

FINAL BUDGET

The Fono approved the final version of the FY 2013 budget for $454.86 million, a reduction of about $42.43 million from the original version of $497.29 million submitted by the Togiola Administration.

The biggest cut of just over $40 million is from the American Samoa Power Authority’s FY 2013 budget. The Fono approved ASPA’s budget for only four months, saying ASPA officials can discuss the rest of the fiscal year’s funding with the Fono in January next year.

Also cut from the budget is $6.8 million, which is the total ASG says is from the Tobacco Settlement Agreement’s so-called "unplugged" interest.

The House version of the final budget was enrolled Thursday in the Fono journal before submission to the governor, for review and approval, which must be done before 12 midnight of Sept. 30, this coming Sunday night. The new fiscal year begins Monday, Oct. 1.

SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET

The $6.8 million in cuts from departments, offices and the Special Programs budget category was restored in the FY 2013 supplemental bills, with the House approving its version earlier this week over objections from five faipule who argued there is no guarantee this money is available based on conflicting testimony from government witnesses during the Fono Joint Budget Committee hearings.

Rep. Larry Sanitoa, one of the opposing lawmakers, later told Samoa News that not only did ASG witnesses give conflicting testimony, but also Gov. Togiola Tulafono vetoed two High Court judgments to be funded with the tobacco settlement money, saying that this is a “fictitious” funding source for FY 2012.

“So to me and some of my colleagues, this money is not available at all,” said Sanitoa.

However the Budget and Planning Office told budget hearings that money is available in FY 2013. Attorney General Fepuleai A. Ripley said this money remains with the US Interior Department to pay for an ASG loan from the federal government.

The House version along with the Senate version of the supplemental bill were both presented on the Senate floor during second reading on Thursday but Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee chairman Lemanu Peleti Mauga moved to reject both bills.

Sen. Tulifua Tini Lam Yuen wanted a reason behind the motion and Lemanu explained that the governor had vetoed two court judgments with this same funding source, which means this money doesn’t exist in ASG revenue.

However, Tulifua moved to approve the bills saying that all ASG revenue is presented to the Fono for appropriation and it was the Joint Budget Committee’s recommendation to support the supplemental.

No one seconded Tulifua’s motion to approve the supplement and the majority voted to reject both bills.

The House version was returned to the House chamber yesterday morning with a communication that the Senate had rejected the House supplemental.  Rep. Faimealelei Anthony Allen said he believes there is money available to ASG under the tobacco settlement.

With the supplemental rejected, that leaves no funding for the ASG stimulus office and the Department of Information Technology for the new fiscal year. The Fono had transferred the two offices to the Governor’s Office to operate in FY 2013.

The supplemental budget would have provided funding for the following agencies, offices and programs:

Education Department $394,000; Scholarship Fund $500,000; Governor’s Office $500,000; ASG stimulus office $459,500; Department of Information Technology $296,500; Legislature $500,000; ASG vs Siaumau case funding $150,000; Marisco settlement federal case $1 million; Laufou settlement case $1 million; ASPA - outstanding debt $1 million (which is to help pay down ASG’s debts to ASPA); Department of Public Safety $50,000; Department of Public Works $500,000; and DOE facility renovations $450,000.



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