Budget submission will be in ‘electronic’ form, says Budget director

The Fono reconvenes Monday following a two and a half week recess, which was to save session days while awaiting the Executive Branch’s submission of the fiscal year 2016 budget. According to Office of Program Planning and Budget director Catherine D. Saelua, she is looking at sending the budget to the Fono next week and it will be sent in electronic format.

 

The Budget director said, the electronic format — the budget will be put on a CD in PDF format — is similar to the past three years since the Lolo Administration took office in January 2013. “The focus is paperless, saving the local funds, which would be used for printing budget books,” she said. “We do really work hard to contain local funds.”

 

She is looking at transmission of the budget next week — just in time for lawmakers to reconvene. She acknowledged that a few ASG entities were late in submitting their final budgets to her office. (Deadline to submit final budgets was no later than June 19 by 4p.m.)

 

Saelua did confirm that if the Fono requests the budget in paper print format, copies will be provided.

 

Last year, the Fono threatened to cancel the review of the FY 2015 budget — which was submitted in electronic format — unless the Executive Branch resubmitted the budget in hard copy (the usual large budget books.)

 

Lawmakers argued that $3,000 was already appropriated in the FY 2014 to budget related text books and $30,000 for the printing of budget books and other required reports.

 

“We further note that in the FY2015 proposed budget, $5,500 is requested for budget text books and, again, $30,000 is specifically requested for printing and reproduction of budget books and other required reports,” according to the letter last year from the Fono to Saelua.

 

The letter also pointed out that the Fono spent $50,000 to print budget books for lawmakers for the FY 2014 budget review.

 

The Executive Branch later submitted 45 budget books for both the Senate and House. Saelua informed lawmakers last year that the budgets for FYs 2014 and 2015 were submitted in electronic form to cut down costs and make the document easily available to the public.

 

THE FY 2016 BUDGET

 

Once submitted, the FY 2016 budget will be the priority issue of discussion, debate and approval for the 2nd Regular Session of the 34th Legislature.

 

In her June 5 budget call for FY 2016, the Office of Program Planning and Budget director has set the FY 2016 budget ceiling for each ASG entity at 10% less than the approved FY 2015 budget.

 

However, Saelua said that with some large ASG departments, such as the Education Department, a lower percentage is sought.

 

“Some of these departments just cannot survive with a huge reduction in budget,” she told Samoa News yesterday. “And we try to accommodate them with a lower percentage at 5% or even 2% of their approved FY 2015 budget.”

 

Samoa News should point out that the 10% reduction does not include the 5% that is withheld by the Budget Office — per the governor’s policy since 2013 — for all Executive departments and agencies.

 

OTHER ISSUES

 

Also to be submitted by the administration for Fono approval is the nomination of the Chief Procurement Officer, who is also the director of the Procurement Office.

 

The governor’s senior policy advisor Dr. Oreta Mapu Crichton has been acting CPO since May 1, after the post became vacant when former CPO, Ti’aotalaga John Emil Kruse resigned, following his conviction in federal court in connection with the Section 1602 low income housing program.

 

Also to be submitted to the Fono is the nomination of a new board member of the LBJ Medical Center to fill the post left vacant when board member Taufete’e John Faumuina took over as LBJ’s chief executive officer.

 

Identities of the two nominees were not confirmed as of press time.

 

Meanwhile, the House is expected to start holding hearings sometime this month on the 7% sales tax bill introduced early this month by House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale.

 

To get more information on the sales tax and other related matters, several lawmakers — from both the House and Senate — attended a meeting this week in Honolulu with Hawai’i state government officials handling tax matters. Hawai’i is among those states with a sales tax.

 

The proposed local sales tax would not apply to goods and services such as prescription drugs and medical services, according to the language of the bill, which is assigned to the House Ways and Means Committee for review.

 

If endorsed by the Fono and signed into law by the governor, the sales tax would become effective Jan. 1, 2016, which is the same date the 2% “wage tax” is to be repealed.

 

Lawmakers attending the Honolulu meeting are expected to return on tonight’s flight.

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