Senate Decides to “Sleep” on Interim Budget Bill

The House and Senate reconvened this morning to discuss the Fiscal Year 2021 budget for ASG and on the agenda was an administration bill to provide temporary funding to keep the government opened and avert a funding gap that would result in a government shutdown.

The appropriations bill would be funded with “any monies in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, and out of applicable revenues, receipts and funds for departments, and agencies , including the semi autonomous agencies, the Legislature and the Judiciary for Fiscal Year 2021. “

“No appropriations or funding made available shall be used to initiate or resume any project or activity for which appropriations, funds or other authority were not available during Fiscal Year 2020.”

Immediately after the bill was introduced in the Senate, the Chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, Senator Magalei Logovii, questioned the basis for the bill noting that the Fono has already passed the FY2021 budget and sent it to the governor.

He said if the governor doesn’t agree with the changes to the bill then he can exercise his line item vote power.

Magalei urged that senators consider the future and not set a precedent in this instance.

He said there’s a separation of powers and the governor cannot dictate to the Fono what to do with the budget. Magalei went as far as suggesting that the courts are available for a ruling on the dispute over the budget.

He said passing the proposed continuing appropriations bill as is was an open road to the governor to do whatever he wants and spend whatever amount he feels.

Senators Tuaolo Fruean and Muagututia Tauoa echoed Magalei’s statements.

But Senate Pro Tem Nuanuaolefeagaiag Saoluaga Nua , who led the session in the absence of Senate President Gaoteote Palaie Tofau, proposed that the Senate introduce its own bill or resolution to authorize a budget only for the first quarter, based on the FY2020 spending level. “And then wait till a new governor comes in to sort out an FY2021 budget with the Fono. “

Sen Faamausili Mau Mau Jr., in a raised voice said that the Fono should consider the people who are caught up in the middle of the dispute between the governor and the Fono leaders over the budget.

He said everything is put on hold , because of the budget impasse and if they dont act the government may shut down and the public will be affected.

Faamausili reminded that he had proposed at the start of the budget hearings to approve the budget that the governor had submitted.

He said the governor was correct in saying that the Fono didn’t do any work on the budget, that when directors appeared they weren’t asked any questions and the hearings lasted about 5 minutes.

Senator Logoai Siaki sided with Faamausili and said while Magalei was right that the Fono had met the requirements of the law as far as reviewing the FY 2021 budget, “man makes laws, and man breaks laws.”

The former judge advised, “ don’t think too much of the law but consider the effect on the people,” alluding to a shutdown in government because of indecision on the budget.

It was Senator Faiivae Alex Godinet, who suggested that they end their discussion and faamoe le toa,” to sleep on it, seek divine guidance and come back with inspired thoughts tomorrow.

Though Senator Nua tried to push for an alternative appropriations bill , Senator Tuiagamoa Tavai reminded him that they have not agreed to his proposal and to leave the issue until tomorrow. With that the session was brought to a close.

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