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Governor wants to meet with Fono to clarify issues

Gov. Togiola Tulafono wanted to meet at 8 a.m. today with members of both the Senate and House at the Governor H. Rex Lee Auditorium for discussions on any issues which are not clear to the Fono.

However, Fono leaders say they prefer such a gathering tomorrow. The current session of the 32nd Legislature officially ends Oct. 3, this Wednesday, but the governor is concerned about the many administration bills left pending without Fono action.

The governor's request for a meeting was outlined in a letter received Friday morning by Fono leaders, who then informed each chamber about the governor's request to meet with lawmakers and cabinet members.

During the Senate session, Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie informed senators that he and House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale had already discussed the request and agreed to inform the governor about a delay in the meeting until both chambers had a chance to discuss among themselves the governor’s wishes, outlined in the letter.

Gaoteote said senators will meet first this morning to talk about Togiola’s request and are looking at Tuesday at the earliest for the Fono to meet with the governor and his cabinet. Savali told House members that they will await a decision from the Senate.

In his letter, written in the Samoan language, the governor said it has been mentioned several times and it appears the Fono is not satisfied by testimonies of cabinet members on bills and issues pending before lawmakers. He said this appears to be the reason there has been no action on some of the bills submitted by the administration.

He said the current legislative session is coming to a close soon as well as the current administration, but there are still several pending legislations not touched by the Fono. And this is the reason for his request for a meeting with lawmakers, who will be given a chance to hear from the governor and his cabinet on issues that are not clear to the Fono, the letter says. 

The governor said he believes that a recommendation from the Fono is also needed if a special session can be called, maybe before or after the November general election.

He said there are several pieces of legislation submitted by the administration that need Fono approval and this meeting will provide the chance for the executive branch to answer any questions.

One of the most conflicting testimonies by cabinet directors to lawmakers, is regarding the $6.8 million in the tobacco settlement money, which is the so called unpledged interest American Samoa is to receive from its share of the Master Tobacco Settlement agreement.

Budget Office had testified that this money will be available in FY 2013 as local revenue, but Attorney General Fepuleai A. Ripley Jr. said this money is to repay the ASG loan from the federal government.

Because of the conflicting testimonies and no solid proof if this money even exists, the Fono cut this $6.8 million from the FY 2013 budget and then put it into a FY 2103 supplemental appropriation which was then rejected by the Senate last week. (See Saturday’s edition for more details on FY 2013 budget and supplemental bill).

Some bills that the governor has been pushing for approval since last year include a hike in excise tax on alcohol, beer and tobacco;  an increase in business license fees and the new $2,000 corporate franchise tax.

Other pending measures include creating by local statute the Department of Information Technology, whose director is also the territory’s Chief Information Officer, and the American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency.