AMERICAN SAMOA PROPOSES $304 MILLION BUDGET

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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, Aug. 30) - The American Samoa government's US$304.3 million budget for fiscal year 2008 was submitted to the Fono on Tuesday and is now being analyzed by the Legislative Financial Office before lawmakers reconvene next Tuesday.

In his Aug. 24 letter that accompanied the budget, Governor Togiola says "revenue trends have remained relatively static over the past few years underscoring the fact that no new revenue measures have been enacted to increase our revenue base."

He said these resources were carefully allocated to ensure current service levels continue in the coming fiscal year (which begins Oct. 1, 2007).

"Any improvements in services will have to come from increased performance efficiency and effectiveness rather than from new funds," he said. "This fact certainly highlights our persistent commitment to controlling unnecessary spending and executing cost control measures throughout the new fiscal year."

According to the governor, local revenues are projected at $64.5 million; Interior Department grant-in-aid at $22.77 million (which has continued to decline from a high of $23 million in past years); Capital Improvement Projects $10.43 million; federal grants for government operations $98.87; and Enterprise Funds $107.8 million.

The FY 2008 budget is a 6.2% increase from the current fiscal year, the governor said.

He said federal grants and Enterprise funds account for the most increases from previous fiscal year. He also noted that federal grants are estimated to increase by $10.1 million or 11% while Enterprise funds are projecting a growth of $7.6 million or 7.6% over the previous year, with local revenues and expenditures projected at the same level as FY 2007.

Projected local revenues for FY 2007 were $64.3 million compared to $65.5 million in FY 2006, according to the FY 2007 budget proposal.

The governor also touched briefly on the recent minimum wage increase, saying that although the future of the tuna canneries "is uncertain as it is buffeted by the impacts of rising minimum wages and escalating fuel costs, there is glimmer of hope that their operations will continue into the near future..."

He said this is evident by the recent signing of a Power Purchase Agreement between Chicken of the Sea (COS Samoa Packing) with the American Samoa Power Authority while StarKist Samoa is anticipating launching the production of the tuna pouch.

"These events will continue to drive the economy activity within the territory in the next few years," the governor noted.

StarKist Samoa has said recently that tuna pouch production remains on hold at this time due to the new minimum wage hike.

Togiola said American Samoa continues to investigate new avenues to diversify the economy and one key initiative is the fiber optic land line within the next year.

"This will certainly boost communication related business and allow the territory to take advantage of new technologies and create an environment for new employment of our people," he said.

For ASG, Togiola said the government will continue to pursue improvements to financial management capabilities as well as better management of federal grant programs within the government.

He said increase in federal grants for the new fiscal year will provide for increased training in grant writing and improve overall grant compliance.

"We have begun this effort with the recent grant workshops in San Francisco, which was attended by all the key financial agencies of our local and federal governments," the governor said and noted that this workshop's intent is to increase compliance with the federal Office of Management and Budget circulars governing the use of federal funds.

The San Francisco workforce was held two months ago sponsored by the U.S. Department of Interior, attended by local officials as well as those from other U.S. insular governments.

"We approach the future with confidence by placing our aspirations and hopes not just on economic activity and our cherished social and political stability but on our Constitutional foundation of 'Muamua le Atua'," the governor said. "Ultimately, we entrust our future in the hands of the Almighty as called by our Constitution and by the faith of our people."

The huge budget book will be distributed when lawmakers returns to the Fono next week. No dates are set yet as to when budget committees of the Fono will start conducting budget hearings but the governor had informed the Fono that directors of executive departments and agencies are available during the review.

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