ASG revenue measures still being debated in the House
A motion by two faipule to allow one amendment to the House version of the Administration’s revenue measure to increase the miscellaneous excise tax rate was denied by the House Ways and Means Committee during a brief discussion Monday.
Committee chairman, Lavea Fatulegaee Palepoi Mauga told the committee that adding amendments to the administration bill will make it hard for the governor to sign.
After a long hearing on Monday with members of the ASG Revenue Task Force, Rep. Vui Florence Saulo and Rep. Vesi Talalelei Fautanu Jr. introduced their amendments for the bill during committee discussion, although other lawmakers wanted to pass the bill without any changes.
Vui asked the committee to earmark 0.5% for road repairs while Vesi wanted to earmark another 0.5% for the hospital. Vui told the committee that roads are one of the most essential developments for the island, and because there is lack of funding to continue with road repairs, she wants to make sure there is funding for it.
Rep. Vaetasi Tuumolimoli Saena Moliga interrupted and advised the committee to stop trying to add more amendments to the Administration bill, as it will make their work harder. He said if there is a need in each district, each lawmaker can introduce their own bill with a source of funding to fulfill the needs within their districts.
Vui disagreed and told the committee this is why their districts voted them in, so they can find ways to better the lives of the people and help the government.
“This is our only chance with this administration bill. We’re not trying to ignore what the government leaders are asking us to do, we’re trying to do something good to help our people who are suffering day and night due to bad road conditions, so please, look ahead for the betterment of our people and don’t just say whatever you want to say,” said Vui.
Vesi, on the other hand, told the committee this is their only chance to jump in and make amendments.
“We’re asking for only 0.5% from this bill to help with our hospital, because once this bill is passed and gone, we will never have another chance to make amendments in the future. We’re talking about the need to upgrade our hospital, the need to have more doctors and those specialists from off island to help our people with their health conditions, but we cannot afford to do all those things if we don’t have the funds,” said Vesi.
Rep. Kitara Vaiau told the committee the reason why there’s a lot of problems in government right now, is because the Treasurer and his department are not doing their job, and there is no control on government spending.
After the committee's brief discussion, the majority of the lawmakers voted on the motion to report the bill to the floor for second reading, without any amendments.
The four members of the ASG Revenue Task Force who appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee were ASG Treasurer Ueligitone Tonumaipe’a; Deputy Treasurer Keith Gebauer; Budget Director Cathy Saelua; and Deputy AG Loralei Meredith.
When questioned by faipule, the witnesses said ASG needs additional revenues to operate and provide critical public services such as medical and police services.
The flat rate for the beer tax was once again explained by Tonumaipe’a, as the best way to levy the tax, which in its new form basically means 35-cents per can.
When asked by the committee about how much the government is estimated to collect with the proposed change, Tonumaipe’a said it all depends on the volume coming in. Under the current taxing system, the Treasurer said ASG collects about $1.5 million just for beer alone. So if the volume of imported beer increases, revenue collections will go up as well.
The Administration points out that the current rate has not been changed for many years and is in need of updating and adjusting to address new economic realities.
The current 5% tax would be increased from 5 to 8% with 75% of the revenues going to the General Fund.
One million shall be appropriated for student financial aid and the remaining amount shall be earmarked for repairs and renovations of all public school facilities.
The governor informed Fono leaders that without the increase of these revenues, American Samoa will continue to fall behind in proper funding for schools and education of our youth.