Fono cuts program funds to hike own budget nearly $1M

The Legislature is getting an increase of close to $1 million in its fiscal year 2014 budget after the Fono joint budget committee cut monies from nine government programs and then endorsed the government’s $456.3 million FY 2014 budget.

 

The joint committee convened yesterday afternoon to discuss and review amendments that were presented by the committee co-chairs Sen. Laolagi F.S. Vaeao — the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee chairman — and Rep. Timusa Tini Lam Yuen, the House Budget and Appropriations Committee chairman.

 

There were some suggestions from lawmakers of specific projects to be given some money but in the end the committee all agreed to the amendments, which do not alter the total government budget.

 

The cuts made by the joint committee total $985,000, which was then added to the Fono’s original budget of $6.7 million. The Fono’s proposed final FY 2014 budget stands at more than $7.5 million.

 

Distribution of the reallocated money is being worked on by the Fono staff and the budget bill will be presented today to the Senate and House for a second reading with third reading set for tomorrow (Saturday) session.

 

Victims of the joint committee’s cuts include $200,000 each from the DOE Education Conference and Suigaula Development programs, as each were originally allocated $500,000; and $100,000 each from the Treasury Department (which was originally given $1 million), and Local road maintenance subsidy (whose original budget was $600,000).

 

The committee also reduced:

 

•            Sports Complex subsidy by $135,000, down to $200,000;

 

•            Amnesty Program Development by $50,000 to $100,000

 

•            Veterans Stadium Improvements by $50,000 to $250,000

 

•            Election Outreach Program by $50,000 to $150,000

 

•            Hotel demolition & clean-up by $100,000 to $400,000

 

Samoa News reported yesterday that Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie said the Fono, which is a separate branch of government, needs a higher budget than in past years for its operations to cover all expenses, including personnel, pay for lawmakers and their allowances, utilities, travel and other important matters.

 

During Wednesday’s budget hearing, Gaoteote said he believes lawmakers should get a pay hike, adding that this pay increase is for future generations. He said if a right thing needs to be done, then it should be done and if not, then don’t.

 

After the budget was approved, Laolagi expressed his sincere appreciation and thanks to all lawmakers for their patience, support and assistance throughout the three weeks of budget hearings.

 

He says there was a time when things were tense but in the end, the joint committee  reached a peaceful conclusion of its budget review.

 

The joint committee, however, returns at 8a.m. today to hear testimony from Police Commissioner William Haleck on the Public Safety’s FY 2014 budget. Haleck was due to return to the territory last night.

 

Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono spoke on behalf of the Senate, thanking the joint committee for their efforts, and offered apologies if anyone was hurt due to statements he made in the morning following the LBJ budget. However, he says he was speaking to the joint committee as a father figure giving words of wisdom. (See separate story on the LBJ budget hearing printed elsewhere in today’s edition)

 

Rep. Talia Fa’afetai Iaulualo, speaking for the House leadership, also commended everyone for their work on the budget hearing that has come to fruition.

 

TREASURY REPORT

 

Earlier yesterday, the joint committee received an updated report from Treasury Department providing the latest tax collection figures. At the start of the budget hearings three weeks ago, some lawmakers were concerned with the corporate tax projection for FY 2014, which is $17.7 million compared to only $6 million for FY2013.

 

Laolagi says corporate tax projection was a big concern for lawmakers but data provided by Treasury shows that ASG is doing well in tax collection — reaching $8.7 million so far this fiscal year.

 

Based on ASG testimony during the budget hearing, Laolagi said the government is enforcing tax collection, projecting more than $5 million in fuel tax when ASPA pulls out of being a fuel supplier, and Treasury is improving their audit of local businesses.

 

These are areas of focus by Treasury Department in their projection of corporate taxes for FY 2014, he said.

 

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