Fono back in session today — FY 2021 ASG budget tops agenda
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Lawmakers convene today for the 4th and final session of the current Legislature and priority on the Fono’s agenda for consideration and approval is the proposed final budget for the new fiscal year 2021 — which begins Oct. 1st this year.
The Executive Branch prepared the budget document and proposed legislation for submission to the Fono, And the FY 2021 budget call letter to cabinet members went out in March this year, in which the government maintains for FY 2021 the budget ceiling at the current budget threshold of $421.48 million.
The Office of Program Planning and Budget director Catherine D. Saelua, sent out the budget call letter, setting the celling threshold for the government as American Samoa and the world is faced with the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the coronavirus pandemic worldwide, Saelua points out that “our government has firmly taken a proactive stance that is necessary to combat” the spread of the virus.
While the federal government attempts to do everything possible to deal with the pandemic outbreak, “our local government must be vigilant in securing our borders and be fully prepared to respond in an event of a coronavirus case” in the territory, she wrote.
“To cautiously deal with the financial backlash” from the virus outbreak, Saelua notes that “precautionary budget containment measures” are in place to “help offset the financial impact to our local revenue base.”
Cabinet members were informed that ASG currently receives about 35% of its annual budget from the federal government and the remaining 65% is locally funded to cover government spending on services provided to meet the growing needs of local residents.
“In fact, for every dollar of budgeted revenue we received, only 35 cents is from the federal and 65 cents is raised locally,” wrote Saelua who has made similar statements when referring to past budget issues. “For the most part, we rely mostly on our limited local funds coffer, to sustain and finance the priorities that are critical to our government.”
“Therefore, while we are confident in the prospect of a brighter future... we must be pragmatic and be cautiously conservative in our estimate for the FY 2021 proposed budget,” she said. “To endure a strong financial position and further safeguard our finances, we must continue on this path of financial discipline with integrity and fiscal responsibility.”
LOCAL FUNDS & FEDERAL GRANTS
Saelua informed agencies that the budgetary ceiling for local funds to guide annual operating budget for FY 2021 is based on FY 2020 approved budget. “Your proposed plan should also be aligned with your current organizational setup and functional statements,” she wrote.
Furthermore, cost for fringe benefits on FICA and Workmen’s Compensation are 7.65% and 1.05% for both career and contract employees, with an additional 8% government contribution to the retirement fund — bringing total fringe benefit rate of 16.70% for career service and 8.70% for contract employees.
Cabinet members are reminded that all “fixed costs” - utilities, communication, rents and leases — should also be incorporated in the budget plan.
According to Saelua, the propose budget, with federal grants, must be consistent with the most recent approved federal grant award and not exceed authorized amounts of the current awards.
ASG offices and semi autonomous agencies whose budgets are considered “Enterprise Funds” were requested to provide the profit and loss statement for the most recent three years.
“It is imperative that proposed expenses must be tied to actual revenue collection,” said Saelua, adding that closer monitoring of enterprise activities is necessary to ensure that expenses are controlled and in line with actual revenue collections.”
Enterprise funds are self sustaining ASG entities — such as ASPA, ASTCA, Industrial Park, and Airport Division — funded through generated revenue to support operations and services.
The governor’s executive assistant, Iulogologo Joseph Pereira has yet to respond to Samoa News inquiries last week Thursday on proposed new legislation — aside from the budget — that the governor plans to submit to the Fono.