Fono approves 2017 budget totaling $380 million +

Fono News
fili@samoanews.com

After making one amendment, the Fono Joint Budget Committee yesterday approved the proposed fiscal year 2017 budget totaling just over $380 million, as the House also approved yesterday an administration bill that authorizes the use of scanners, with $2 million in revenues collected from scanner fees to fund the $2 million in local matching funds in FY 2017 budget.

Although the final FY 2017 budget had one amendment, per request by the governor, this is the first time in recent memory that lawmakers haven’t made any major changes to a budget submitted by a sitting governor.

SCANNER FEES

The House version of the approved bill allows customs agents to search and inspect any and all vessels, aircraft, and persons entering or leaving the territory including the use of X-ray scanners to inspect all containers, loose cargo, parcels and merchandise.

Before its final vote, the House made minor amendments to the fees for use of scanners. The approval version, which was transmitted to the Senate yesterday, outlines the fees: a 40-foot or more container is $300; containers less than 40-feet, including all 20-foot containers is $200; a $50 fee is for a loose cargo pallet; $50 per vehicle; $75 for heavy equipment. Unchanged is $10 per parcel imported for commercial purposes.

FY 2017 BUDGET

The Fono Joint Budget Committee convened yesterday to finalize language of the FY 2017 budget and co-chair Sen. Laolagi F.S. Vaeao noted that the committee early this week agreed to include — as an add-on — the $2 million in local matching funds for two airport projects that will be funded by the US Federal Aviation Administration to the tune of $20 million  — $13 million for improvement to the Tafuna airport and $7.7 million for relocation of the airport jet fuel tanks.

Laolagi said the $2 million in matching funds, which will be included under Special Program budget category, is the only amendment made to the final budget.

House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale explained that funding source of the matching funds comes from revenues that will be collected on scanner fees, which was approved yesterday by the House will minor amendments. And if the Senate agrees, he said, the source of the matching funds will be in place.

Laolagi explained that the Senate held a hearing earlier yesterday on the Senate version of the scanner fees bill but there are some minor issues that the committee wants to address before making a final decision.

He says the Senate had received the approved House version, but did not have a chance to review it. Laolagi says senators agree with the bill but had minor issues that needed further information before making a final decision.

House Vice Speaker Fetu Fetui Jr., questioned the status of issues raised by lawmakers regarding the American Samoa Visitors Bureau budget and Laolagi responded the committee had heard testimony from Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale that the contract for the Visitors Bureau executive director is something that comes from the board.

Laolagi also pointed out that it was revealed during the Visitors Bureau hearing that the executive director’s contract is valid for at least two more years.

Fetui says the salary and benefits received by the executive director is much different than other ASG contract employees and this is an issue that the Fono should “not let go” but to look into it in the future.

With that the committee moved and approved the final language of the FY 2017 budget, which now totals $380.48 million — including the $2 million local match.

The committee’s report on the FY 2017 budget will be presented today to both the Senate and House with the recommendation for approval in second reading.

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