Am. Samoa Fono Approves 2016 Budget, Bill Goes To Governor

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Some changes made by legislature makes Lolo signature uncertain

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Sept. 30, 2015) – The Fono has officially approved the government’s $417.85 million fiscal year 2016 budget, which includes amendments made early last week by the Fono Joint Budget Committee. The Senate approved Monday the House version of the budget bill and the House gave yesterday its endorsement of the Senate version.

The House version was returned yesterday to the House where it was registered in Fono records and sent to the governor for his review and approval.

Because of changes made by the Fono, it’s unclear if the governor will accept the Fono approved version or use his line-item veto authority to make his own changes. The final budget act needs to be signed into law by midnight tonight, with the new fiscal year beginning tomorrow, Oct. 1.

Major changes made by the Fono to the final budget were done by making budget cuts of $992,500 and reallocating the money back to the FY 2016 budgets of the Legislature and local Judiciary.

The reallocated money is the 10% that the joint budget committee argued the governor had no right to cut from the proposed budgets of the other two branches of government — the Legislative and the Judiciary.

Added back is $768,500 to the Fono’s final budget, which now totals $7.68 million, and $224,000 to the Local Judiciary for a final budget of $2.24 million.

The ASG final FY 2016 budget is funded with $90.65 million in local revenue (including $66.50 million in taxes); $23.02 million in Interior Department funding; $10.04 million from Capital Improvement Projects; $106.66 million in Special Federal Grants; and $187.46 million, according to the budget bill.

Many Executive departments and agencies are waiting for the start of the new fiscal year, so that money is available for expenditures. For example, at the Department of Education, money is needed to purchase materials and supplies.

During a Senate committee hearing last Thursday, senators told Education director Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau that there are reports from schools about the lack of supplies for students. Vaitinasa says things are on hold at this time and when the new fiscal year starts, money will be available for such purchases.

Seniors staffers of two other government agencies told Samoa News this week that they are unable to process payment for expenditures at this point until the new fiscal year begins.

"The government is holding back on unnecessary purchases — not considered emergencies — to ensure that there is no overspending of funding at the close of FY 2015," said a senior ASG official, who asked not be identified. "This was the clear message from the Treasury Department and the Governor’s Office."

Among the big concerns heard from lawmakers during budget hearings is whether the government will be able to collect the projected taxes in FY 2016, after a drop in FY 2015 compared to the forecasted amount.

The issue surfaced again on Monday during a Senate hearing where ASG Treasurer Ueligitone Tonumaipea explained that the one reason that ASG wasn’t able to reach its FY 2015 tax revenue forecast — especially in excise tax — was the five to six months in FY 2015, where shipping was delayed to the territory due to the US west coast port labor dispute. He gave similar testimony during the first day of joint budget hearings earlier this month.

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