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Bill to increase Fono members' office allowance flies through Senate

Senate chamber
It was originally submitted to raise “salaries”

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The amended bill to increase the office expense allowance of the Fono went through without a glitch in the third and final reading in the Senate last Thursday, with all 14 senators present voting yes.

The bill amends Section 2.0104 of the American Samoa Code Annotated.

According to the Preamble, “the American Samoa Legislature is comprised of [sic] the Senate and the House of Representatives, first convened in October 1984 and this year will celebrate its 75th anniversary of that historic day.

 “The Senate is comprised of [sic] eighteen members representing their Senate Districts and the House of Representatives is comprised of (sic) twenty members representing their House Districts. These dedicated individuals devote themselves and their time to the leadership of our community year-round.”

It points out that the “American Samoa Code Annotated 2.0202, which establishes the annual salary for the Senators, Representatives and Delegate has not been updated since 1982 despite the immense rise in cost of living since that time.

The amendment reads, “however, the senators and representatives have additional challenges to their duties and responsibilities as the Fono building is still under construction and they do not have any offices to conduct meetings. They must find spaces in their homes or meet at restaurants in order to conduct business. This arrangement necessitates additional expenses for the senators and representatives.

 “The legislators are servants of the community and are expected to be available at all times for the needs and concerns of their constituents. As such, an increase in the office expense fund is essential for incidental expenses for legislators.”

Section 2.0104 of the American Samoa Code Annotated has been amended to read;

 “Office expense fund for legislators.

 (a) There shall be paid in equal biweekly installments an annual expense allowance of;

            (1)       $45,000 has been amended to $65,000 per annum to each member of the Senate and House of Representatives.

            (2)       $60,000 has been amended to $80,000 per annum to the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives.

 (b) This allowance is for the purpose of defraying expenses relating to or resulting from the discharge of their official duties. An accounting of the expenditures incurred by the member is not required.

Unless the member so elects, the allowance provided in this section is not income and the member is now required to report the amount of the allowance as income for tax purposes. A member may not subsequently claim the allowance as non-income once the election has been made to designate it as taxable income.”

The bill as originally submitted by the administration proposed a hike in salaries of lawmakers.

However, senators last Wednesday amended the bill to raise office expense allowances, not salaries.

The source of funding for the bill is “the surplus of FY2023 from unbudgeted, unexpended and unobligated revenues of the American Samoa Government shall be made available to the Legislature for the purpose set forth herein.”

The amended bill now goes to the House of Representatives.

If approved and signed into law by the Governor, after passage by the House of Representatives, the bill shall become effective 60 days after the end of the session at which it has passed.