Former Treasurer insists DOE has money; DOE says it was removed from Budget
Sen. Magalei Logovi’i, former ASG Treasurer from the previous administration continues to insist that some $1 million was allocated in the FY 2013 budget for DOE facility maintenance and renovations, but there are no results from those budgeted funds.
“Don’t throw us your problems — give us solutions,” Magalei told Education Department officials during yesterday's Senate Education Committee hearing, which was to focus on DOE plans between now and when the new school year begins sometime in August.
Magalei said DOE wants money, while there are already funds allocated for their use, especially to fund maintenance and repairs to public school buildings. “What is your plan?" he asked the DOE officials on hand.
Among DOE officials called for the hearing were director Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau and deputy director of finance, Russ Aab. The officials made a power point presentation, which showed pictures of deplorable bathroom conditions at public schools.
The DOE director added that there are also several school buildings in dire need of repairs especially the old buildings still in use today. This was echoed by Aab, who noted that only $550,000 is allocated in the DOE budget in FY 2013 for school maintenance and “there is not much we can do with $550,000.”
He said this is the reason there is a request for DOE maintenance in the FY 2013 supplemental budget. (The DOE maintenance supplemental proposal was $300,000 but the Fono reduced it by $100,000 and reallocated that money for MV Sili repairs).
Magalei quickly pointed out that the written information and verbal testimony by DOE is not accurate, because according to the FY 2013 budget book about $1 million is budgeted for DOE maintenance.
Aab responded that DOE was informed by the ASG Budget Office that the Fono had reduced the amount and therefore only $550,000 is allocated for this program.
However, Magalei disagreed and insisted that the FY 2013 budget is an approved document and the money for this program is earmarked from one-cent of the fuel tax.
“My problem is, Budget Office gave us only $550,000,” was Aab’s reply, but Magalei continued to insist that $1 million had been allocated — but DOE officials "are now giving the committee a much different picture."
Hunkin-Finau humbly apologized to senators saying that there was never any intention by the DOE to provide inaccurate information and testimony to the Senate, but said that this was the amount provided by the Budget Office.
Magalei suggested the committee, when the Fono returns in July, call in the Budget Office to find out what happened to the rest of the money for this program, and this was supported by Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono, who added that if the money was budgeted and approved by the Fono, that's how it should be spent.
Later in the hearing, which lasted for over an hour, Sen. Laolagi F.S. Vaeao noted that the report provided by DOE shows that the department projects $1.4 million from the fuel tax and wanted to know what happened to the money.
Aab responded that he does not know, but suggested that DOE should be allowed to submit a separate budget for the use of the fuel tax revenue for school maintenance instead of the $1.4 million forecast every year to be included as overall ASG revenues.
Laolagi said there is money available through this fuel tax for school renovation and maintenance but the pictures shown during the power point presentation indicate the bathrooms are deplorable and in very bad condition. “It’s embarrassing,” he added.
Magalei pointed out that DOE had a grant funded program called ‘bathroom monitor’, which was successful until it was transferred to the DOE maintenance and suggested that this program be looked at again.
After the witnesses were dismissed, senators agreed to Sen. Mauga T. Asuega’s suggestion for a letter from the committee to the administration that the entire $1 million budgeted for DOE maintenance and renovations be given to DOE.
During a recent House committee hearing on the supplemental, ASG Treasurer Dr. Falema’o ‘Phil’ M. Pili testified that the DOE maintenance funds request was because the original funding had been reduced by the Fono last year.
Cuts were made by the Joint Fono Budget hearings last September to the final FY 2013 budget document before it was approved and sent to the administration. Among the cuts was $450,000 from the DOE facility renovation program.
What the Fono had done at the time was cut $6.8 million out of the final budget — after getting conflicting testimonies from ASG witnesses over the money government was supposed to get in the FY 2013 budget under the unpledged provisions of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement.
The budget submission shows windfall money totaling $6.8 million in unpledged proceeds of the tobacco settlement but ASG witnesses disagreed: then Attorney General Fepuleai Afa Ripley said this money was allocated to pay the ASG loan from the federal government, while the Budget office claimed it was not.
Besides DOE facility renovations, other programs that suffered cuts (which totaled $6.8 million) were the entire budgets of the Stimulus Office and the Information Technology Department and $500,000 each from the Governor’s Office and the Fono.