It’s the 15th day of Fiscal Year 2021 and the American Samoa Government remains open while leaders of the executive branch and legislature remain far apart on a budget law.
Yesterday the Senate President and House Speaker wrote Governor Lolo Moliga saying the special session of the 36th Legislature has closed and the Fono remained steadfast and reaffirmed its position on the FY2021 budget.
They said they accept the governor’s notice of a 15-days extension of the special session but “Regrettably we have no item to deliberate as we have already made a final decision on the budget, the single item on the special session call.”
Senate President Gaoteote Palaie Tofau and House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale pointed out that based on the original call the special session would adjourn tomorrow October 16. The 15-days extension means the session would adjourn October 31.
They reminded Lolo that a bill not acted upon by the governor within 30 days is disapproved by operation of law, if the governor is unable to return the bill due to adjournment of a legislative session.
“We are pressed to remind you that the budget has been with you for more than 15 days,” said the Senate President and Speaker.
“Rather than perform one of only three options available to a governor, you returned the budget citing your displeasure with actions taken by the Fono.
“As we have asserted, we do not doubt your desire to provide pay raises for employees of the government. We all wish to improve the lives of our people by enhancing their livelihoods, in this case increases in their salaries. Our differences lie in how we arrive at this goal. We are not confident with the projections you provided in your proposal and is the primary reason for their cuts.”
The Fono sliced $6.5 million from the governor’s proposed budget and the reductions are in department and agency budgets. The budgets of the authorities were not touched.
The Fono leaders said they were elated that in the governor’s last correspondence to them on the budget he recognizes and accepts that the Fono had been working within the confines of the law.
“For you to mention in your communiqué and yield to the guidance of the constitution and our statutes is another great testament to your distinguished leadership,” they complimented.
They asserted that the “Fono remains undeterred” despite the disparaging remarks made against it.
“We will stay on the side of the law in spite of your admonishments. The process to which we constantly allude is one that is prescribed by law and cannot be altered because one branch is displeased with its outcome.”
In conclusion Gaoteote and Savali urged Governor Lolo to act on the budget bill which is in “your control.”
And they advised that if he decides to disapprove the budget in whole or in part, a new bill should be presented by the administration.
The leaders also shed doubt on the legality of the governor’s move to continue ASG operations on an executive order.
“We further maintain that an executive order cannot extend the funding of our operations. This must go through the proper appropriations process.“
The Fono’s letter was delivered to the Governor’s Office yesterday and this morning at 10, Lolo, Gaoteote, Savali and key staffers were scheduled to meet.