HOUSE COMMITTEE QUESTIONS GOVERNOR’S FUNDING PRIORITIES
Ill timed was the feeling by House members, including Vice Speaker Talia Fa’afetai Iaulualo, who vocalized their concerns over the administration's bill seeking $100,000 to fund a national sports team and complete a traditional Samoan ‘Faletele’ in Utulei when the LBJ Medical Center's funding issue remains unresolved.
Statements on the House floor were made before administration officials, Secretary of Samoan Affairs Lefiti A. Pese and Samoa Bowl Committee official Peter Gurr, during a Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing on the $100,000 administration bill. The stated funding source for the bill is FY 2012 unobligated monies, when Gov. Togiola Tulafono line-item vetoes $253,000 from the FY 2012 budget.
Newly appointed Samoan Affairs Secretary Lefiti said he understands the $250,000 Interior Department grant for the traditional Samoan faletele in Utulei is spent already however, the finishing touches for the project, not included in the DOI funding, is the reason his office is seeking additional funding.
Lefiti reminded the House committee that when he took over the post of Samoan Affairs Secretary the original contractor's work was done, leaving some incomplete work, such as outside railings, lighting and the sidewalk cement.
He said the Department of Public Works is doing the finishing work and the left-over roof items are now being used for some of the ‘faleo’o’ roofs on Utulei Beach.
Responding to committee questions, Lefiti revealed the proceeds from their radiothon for the project, of about $10,000, is currently in a bank account to be used for the traditional Samoa customs during the faletele's dedication, set for Apr. 16.
The House committee plans to review the bill further before a final decision is made.
SAMOA BOWL COMMITTEE
If passed, the Samoa Bowl Committee would receive $50,000 to help with transportation and accommodation for the American Samoa National Under 19 Football Team that is currently in Australia for the Oceania Federation of American Football qualifier.
Samoa Bowl Committee official Peter Gurr, told the House committee the team was scheduled to play another game yesterday and if successful in the Australia tournament, the team will again need to raise money for the Austin, Texas trip in July to compete in the International Federation of American Football World Championship Tournament.
The trips to Australia and Texas would each receive $25,000.
Gurr told lawmakers the total cost of the Australia trip came to $91,000. The Samoa Bowl Committee sought this funding after their fundraising efforts fell short by $30,000. He said most of the money for the trip was raised by the Bowl Committee, the team and their parents.
He said if successful in the Australia tournament, the team will again need to raise money for the Texas trip, which could be a little higher due to the cost of airfare.
Vice Speaker Talia Fa’afetai Iaulualo questioned the usefulness of this project, especially when not integrated into our local education curriculum. He asked what was the importance of sending our students to these two tournaments.
Gurr replied that this is the first time American Samoa has entered this international tournament, with 63 countries participating.
He acknowledged the Samoa Bowl project is not part of the local education curriculum but said, “Our goal is to improve our students and get them to the next level, including education”.
“The importance is that we promote our youth athletics,” said Gurr and also echoed by Lefiti.
Iaulualo pointed out that funding is allocated annually for the education system, where sporting events are also included and if these tournaments are part of the local education curriculum then it should be funded by the Education department — not separate requests every time a team is sent off-island.
“Don’t get me wrong. I support your goal; but it should be part of the education system budget,” said Iaulualo, who believes it’s very unfair that none of the students from Manu’a schools are included in the team to Australia.
In the end Iaulualo said that while he supports the goal of where the money will be used, it’s difficult for him to deal with this money issue when the LBJ Medical Center is also in need of financial assistance.
Rep. Larry Sanitoa acknowledged the importance of the two projects to be funded, but reminded the House that there are other pressing needs. He said when he heard that a team was heading to Australia it was hard for him to comprehend why there was no grant funding for such a purpose. Gurr responded that there is no grant funding for international tournaments.
Sanitoa asked for expenditure reports from the Samoa Bowl Committee (for the team that is presently in Australia) and the Faletele project.
Rep. Tapumanaia Galu Satele Jr. shared his colleagues' concern over the use of this money especially when the hospital is in need of funds. He referred to the governor's statement that the $3 million loan bill for LBJ will only last until April, there are no other funds thereafter.
Tapumanaia told the witnesses he is supportive of the two projects but questioned the administration’s “priority” on where the money goes first. He said it’s very difficult for him to make a decision on this money bill when there are pressing needs for the hospital.