Light Questioning on 1st Day of Budget Hearings

Review of the proposed Fiscal Year 2021 budget for the American Samoa Government got underway this morning. The House and Senate are holding joint hearings under the chairmanship of Senator Magalei Logovii and Representative Vailiuama Steve Leasiolagi, Chairman of the Senate and House Budget and Appropriations Committees respectively.

Shortly after introductory remarks by Treasurer Ueligitone Tonumaipe’a and Budget Director Catherine Saelua, Senator Faamausili Mau Mau Jr moved that the witnesses be excused, the hearing be adjourned and for the Fono to approve the governor’s budget.

However Senator Magalei acknowledged that senators and representatives had already raised their hands for questions.

Senate President Gaoteote Palaie Tofau noted that the proposed budget includes local revenues of $110 million up from $103 in FY2020, and asked what this projection was based on.

According to the Treasurer with StarKist working three shifts this would generate corporate revenues as well as individual income taxes from the employees. Also the COVID-19 pandemic has pumped $175 million in grants to the territory and this should help stimulate individual spending and business activity that would help raise revenues for ASG coffers.

The Senate President also questioned funding for School Maintenance and Repairs which are funded by a portion of the excise tax for fuel. He said that with the opening of the new school year teachers are seeking money to buy supplies and materials for their classrooms yet there’s the Adopt a School Program and also funding from the excise tax for fuel to make classroom repairs.

Representative Larry Sanitoa pointed to the FY2019 audit for ASG which recorded local revenues of $87 million and expenditures of $96 million. He asked the Treasurer for verification that the deficit for ASG would be $8.8 million.

Tonumaipe’a said it’s been a point of contention between ASG and the auditors that the DOI grant for basic operations of over $12 million should be included in the budget as that money is used for government operations. However the auditors list it as transfers in. He said if the DOI funding is included there will be a surplus for FY 2019.

House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale questioned why local revenues for FY 2020 were listed in the budget at $103 million when the figure that the Fono approved was $100 million. The Treasurer explained that a supplemental appropriations bill that the Fono approved to fund the Aua seawall and the TCF wall raised the total local revenues to $103 million.

House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale didn’t agree that the proposed budget places revenues earmarked for repayment of bonds under Enterprise Funds, because he said the enterprise funds do not cover the debt repayment. He also felt that there should be full transparency when the budget bill is under review.

The Treasurer responded that its within the Fono’s purview to correct any errors in the budget.

Senator Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga Nua said the increase in the local revenues portion of the budget should have supplemental documentation to back up the increase. He said there’s nothing wrong with increasing the budget however since no new tax measures had been approved, there should be supporting information to backup the figures in the budget.

The two witnesses were excused after just 40 minutes before the joint committee hearing.
The Governor’s Office, followed by the Attorney General’s Office were the next to present their budget proposals and right after introductions of the officials who came to testify , motions were moved and approves to excuse them and approve their budget requests.

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