FY 2018 budget on its way to Governor for approval or not

Senate amendments still in contention despite House acquiescing
fili@samoanews.com

Both the Senate and House have endorsed the amendments made by the Senate to the House version of the fiscal year 2018 budget bill, and the Fono has given final approval of ASG’s more than $395 million financial plan for the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, 2017.

The budget bill is now being enrolled in Fono records before being transmitted to Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga for review and approval, with possible line-item vetoes on the table due to the Senate’s amendments.

While the final budget’s total remains unchanged at $395.26 million, the amendments in the bill increases the Fono’s budget by $500,000 to $714.2 million. Funding source for the $500,000 are cuts from three projects under the Special Program:

•     $200,000 from the Local Road Maintenance Subsidy, which now has a $600,000 budget;

•     $100,000 from the DPS Law Enforcement, which now has a $100,000 budget; and

•     $200,000 from Western District Youth Multipurpose Center, which now has a $700,000 budget.

CONFERENCE COMMITTEE

Prior to yesterday’s Fono approval of the budget bill, a Conference Committee of both chambers convened at the Fono Guest Fale to discuss the Senate amendments, which had been rejected by the House.

As lawmakers gathered to start the budget debate after 8:30a.m. yesterday, it was announced that Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie and House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale were attending a meeting with the governor and the Fono leaders would be heading back to the Senate chambers soon.

While waiting for the Fono leaders, Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee chairman, Sen. Magalei Logovi’i explained the amendments made by senators.

He said that while $700,000 is allocated for the Fono in the Governor’s FY 2018 Supplemental Budget, the Senate decided it was best that the Fono’s entire fiscal year budget be a part of the basic budget, instead of a supplemental.

Therefore the Senate cut $500,000 from three projects under the Special Programs and reallocated that amount to the Fono.

Magalei explained that when the supplemental budget is presented to the Fono, lawmakers could then amend it by reallocating $500,000 from the Fono’s supplemental to cover the three projects affected in the basic budget, and the other $200,000 in the supplemental that was proposed for the Fono could be used for other purposes by the governor.

Magalei said he read in the newspaper yesterday — referring to Samoa News — about a House concern that the $500,000 to the Fono’s basic budget will be used to hire personnel.

To be clear, he explained, the supplemental for the Fono does not include any personnel costs but covers expenditures such as travel, materials and supplies and utilities — which are listed under “All Other”.

The $500,000 added to the Fono’s basic FY 2018 is to cover these expenditures and not for personnel, he pointed out. (Samoa News can confirm that the supplemental for the Fono does not cover personnel costs, according to the supplemental budget document.)

House Vice Speaker, Fetu Fetui Jr., suggested to await the arrival of Savali before the debate proceeds as the House Speaker can have a chance to address the conference committee on the House’s position.

Two other senators suggested to move forward with the discussion on the Senate amendments so that everyone has a better understanding.

Fetui wondered if the Fono doesn’t have a sufficient budget, as proposed at $6.91 million saying that the House agrees with this budget. And if the Senate believes the $6.91 million budget is not sufficient, then the House requests an explanation.

Sen. Tuaolo Manaia Fruean noted that whatever changes are made by the Fono, the final decision on the budget bill rests with the governor.

About 20 minutes into the discussion, the Fono leaders arrived from their meeting with the governor but no information was revealed on the purpose of the meeting.

Savali said the House didn’t take the Senate amendments lightly but the three projects affected by the cuts are important to the community.

He shared the House’s stand — leave the budget as the governor submitted it.

Gaoteote pointed out that all lawmakers take these programs seriously but added that the Fono’s proposed basic budget is not sufficient to fully fund Fono operations. He said the Fono requires a full basic budget, instead of having to wait on a supplemental budget.

At that point, it appeared that it was going to be difficult to reach a consensus and Sen. Tuaolo suggested putting the matter to a vote, saying there are 14 senators present (less than the number of faipule), and that will be the Senate vote count.

He said everyone has their own opinion set on the issue and more debate won’t change the outcome. He again noted that final approval of the budget bill rests with the governor.

Fetui disagreed with carrying out a vote, but said if that’s what the Senate wants, then that’s how it is. He again asked whether the $6.91 million is not sufficient enough for the Fono, adding that the Fono should set an example, like other ASG departments and agencies whose basic budgets were also reduced.

Additionally, there are pending revenue measures from the Administration in the Fono and if these money bills are approved, it’s the pubic that will carry the burden, he said.

Gaoteote reiterated that $6.91 million is not sufficient to fully carry out the Fono’s work and operations. He said a final decision on the budget bill should be from a consensus.

Four others senators also spoke in support of the amendments, while Sen. Fa’amausili Mau Mau Jr., seconded Tuaolo’s motion for a vote on the matter, but Rep. Tu’umolimoli Saena Moliga disagreed and like Gaoteote suggested reaching a decision by consensus.

Savali reiterated the importance of the three projects affected by the budget cuts. He said the House has the utmost respect for the Senate and the Fono as an institution of law making and is trying to protect the Fono from criticism that may arise out of such changes.

He then offered an apology to House members for the decision he was going to announce — and that is, to go with what senators had requested.

He noted the importance of both the Senate and House working together as there are pending revenue measures from the Administration needed to fund the supplemental budget.

Gaoteote added that both Chambers working together is important if the Fono wants good government. He expressed appreciation to the House but also noted that the final approval of the budget bill rests with the governor.

As the discussions ended and some lawmakers started to rise up from their chairs with others already on their feet, Fetui was overheard saying that he had hoped the entire day would be spent on debating the budget, adding that it was a waste of time attending the conference committee debate.

Samoa News notes that the supplemental budget is yet to be introduced in both the Senate and House.

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