Senate wants more office expense money for legislators — temporarily
To help cover costs of renting temporary office space until the proposed new Fono building is completed, the Senate — through a non-binding resolution — is requesting to the governor for a “temporary office stipend” of $500 a month for each legislator.
Introduced on Wednesday, the resolution noted current law that provides office expense funding for each lawmaker. However, the resolution contends that “it is not sufficient to cover expenses of renting a separate office space and cover all expenses relating to or resulting from the discharging of their office duties.”
The law states that the Senate President and the House Speaker each receive $40,000 per annum as an office expense fund; while each lawmaker — including the Swains Island delegate — get $30,000 a year. And while the office expense fund is non-taxable, a lawmaker can elect to claim this for tax purposes.
According to the resolution, when the old Fono building was demolished last October, their offices were also taken down and lawmakers were instructed to move their legislative offices to their homes.
Most lawmakers live in the traditional Samoan lifestyle in communal homes where they have various extended family members live with them, the measure says, adding that due to the communal nature of Samoan life, lawmakers do not have a separate room in their homes to house their legislative office.
It claims that “legislators have done their best to carve out space in their homes to conduct legislative business, and it’s a difficult task.” Furthermore, the traditional Samoan home “is not conducive to conducting legislative business.”
The measure, sponsored by Sens. Tuaolo Manaia Fruean, Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga Nua, Fa’amausili Mau Mau Jr., and Magalei Logovi’i, was the subject of a Senate committee hearing yesterday.
Except for Magalei, who chaired the committee hearing, the other three sponsors of the resolution were witnesses, with Tuaolo first noting that legislators’ offices at home have resulted in no privacy for lawmakers, who have constituents visiting them at home.
Tuaolo cited the Governor’s Special Program as funding for the stipend, which he says will only be in utilized by lawmakers until the new Fono building is opened. He also said that the stipend could help defray expenses — such as electricity — for lawmakers who use their homes as offices for legislative business.
Nuanuaolefeagagia pointed out that the Senate President and House Speaker currently have offices at the two-story building on the Fono compound, but not senators. Without offices, he said he has observed senators waiting in their vehicles for a long time prior to the start of the Senate’s work-day agenda.
According to the Manu’a senator, there are many office spaces around the town area, closer to the Fono compound that can be used by senators as temporary offices, making them more accessible, especially to off island visitors looking for a specific legislator.
For example, he said a US Army Corps official was on island recently and came looking for him, and not only did he have no office but no phone number for the official to make contact.
Nuanuaolefeagagia says money is not important — but for the health and safety of senators — they need offices to carry out their legislative duties.
Fa’amausili made a motion, which was not approved by the committee, to hike the stipend from $500 to $800, saying that not only is the cost of electricity to be considered with offices at home, but lawmakers also serve food to their constituents who visit them.
Sen. Fonoti Tafa’aifa Aufata said this matter should have been discussed and addressed prior to the old Fono building being demolished.
At the end of yesterday’s hearing, the committee agreed to amend the resolution to a Senate Concurrent Resolution, with the measure including the House of Representatives as well as their review and endorsement of the measure, which is expected to be presented soon to the Senate floor for a final vote.
Annually, the Senate President and the House Speaker each receive a $30,000 a year salary, while each lawmaker gets $25,000 annually — except for the Swains Island delegate, whose salary is $20,000, according to local law. These salaries are subject to taxes.
Optional to taxation are the office expenses of the lawmakers as noted with $40,000 a year for Fono leadership, and $30,000 to the rest. Currently, for leadership that’s around $3334.00 per month, and $2,500 for the others.
With the office stipend the lawmakers are now asking the governor to grant, that’s another $6,000 per year/ at $500 per month — nontaxable.