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Senators differ on when to hold hearings for new rev measures

[SN file photo]
Magalei says after the budget hearings, Tuaolo says before

The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, chaired by Sen. Magalei Logovi’i, is moving forward with hearings on the administration’s new revenue measures, starting tomorrow, while the Senate is awaiting the official introduction of the fiscal year 2018 budget bill and when budget hearings will commence.

The five revenue measures, including the controversial 7% sales tax, was introduced in both the Senate and House before lawmakers took their mid-session recess at the close of business on July 21st.

When the Fono reconvened on Monday, Magalei said during the Senate session that some of his colleagues have asked him when the committee will start reviewing the sales tax, which is part of the governor’s legislative agenda.

He said he planned to first review the budget, which is to be officially introduced today, as there is a timeframe for the Fono to approve it. Thereafter the committee will start reviewing the revenue bills.

At yesterday’s Senate session Sen. Tuaolo Manaia Fruean, who is the Budget Committee vice chair, called for the committee to move forward with hearings on the revenue measures, saying the government needs money at this point, adding that there are many ASG employees whose working hours remain at 70-hours per pay period.

He said there is no need to wait for the budget, and the committee should move forward with the revenue bills.

Magalei said that he hasn’t seen the FY 2018 budget, but based on newspaper reports, the basic budget for FY 2018, is 90% and it has been submitted along with the supplemental budget of 10%.

According to the Tualauta senator, who is a former ASG Treasurer and ASG Budget Office director, there is no such thing as a 90% basic budget as the annual budget submission is always 100%; and any other needs of the government is submitted as a supplementary measure.

Magalei said it’s pertinent that the FY 2018 budget is reviewed first and once it’s passed, they can move on to the revenue bills, which is the funding source for the supplemental budget.

Tuaolo responded that he fully understands what Magalei is trying to explain, but pointed out that it’s very important that the Senate start discussing the revenue measures.

Fellow senators Fa’amausili Mau Mau Jr., Fa’iivae Iuli Godinet, and Tuiagamoa Tavai agreed with Tuaolo and suggested that the committee start reviewing the revenue measures while awaiting the FY 2018 budget.

Magalei asked his colleagues to give the committee a chance to go through the budget first, which has a timeframe during which it needs to be approved, while the revenue bills — if enacted into law — won’t become effective until January next year.

He also noted that there are several groups, such as the ASG Revenue Task Force, that need to be called to testify on the revenue measures, like the sales tax.

However, Tuaolo questioned what will happen if the revenue bills are not passed.

The senator from Pago quickly pointed out that he is the committee vice chair and can therefore take over hearings on the measures, if the chairman’s schedule is too busy. Tuaolo maintained that the revenue measures should move forward, with hearings and testimonies, instead of waiting until after the FY 2018 budget discussions.

Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie informed senators that he is waiting for House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale to return from an off island trip to discuss hearings for the FY 2018 budget along with the chairmen of the Senate and House budget committees.

As for the revenue measures, Gaoteote informed Magalei that senators have made recommendations to the committee and Magalei responded by scheduling the first hearing tomorrow with the ASG Revenue Task Force.

Gaoteote asked the committee to bring in early all witnesses to testify on the revenue measures so that senators have a full understanding, thereby making it easier for them to reach a decision.

Early last month, the Task Force, chaired by Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale, made a presentation to the Fono leaders and some lawmakers on the proposed revenue measures. The Task Force also gave a presentation early this month to the Chamber of Commerce, where several concerns were voiced over the 7% sales tax, despite the repeal of the 2% wage tax.