Gov and lt. gov get their raises, lawmakers their hike in allowances
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga signed into law last Friday, Oct. 14th, a Fono approved bill, which originated from the Senate and increase the salaries of the governor and lieutenant governor, as well as raises the office expense allowance for lawmakers.
Both increases are effective immediately upon passage by the Fono and approval of the governor, according to provisions of the bill, which also states that $1 million from the surplus of FY 2019 and FY 2020 shall be made available to the Legislature to fund the salary increases in FY2022.
Additionally, funds shall be made available from the budgets of the Legislature and the Office of the Governor to fund salaries for succeeding fiscal years.
The Administration’s $12.65 million supplemental appropriation for FY 2022 — already signed into law by then acting governor, Lt. Gov. Talauega Eleasalo Ale, includes $1 million to the Legislature, with no explanation in the bill on how it’s to be used.
Lemanu informed Fono leaders in an Oct. 14th letter that this Senate bill was signed into law on the date of the letter. The governor didn’t give any other explanation or information in the letter.
GOVERNOR & LT. GOV.
The new law increases the salary of the governor from $85,000 to $120,000 and the lieutenant governor from $75,000 to $100,000 annually.
Justification of the pay hikes for the two leaders, according to the bill’s preamble, is that in addition to their regular duties and responsibilities, COVID-19 has increased their workload exponentially from managing the coronavirus task force, to dealing on a daily basis with the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to dedicating more support for the ASG Medicaid Office, the Health Department and LBJ Medical Center.
The preamble also says that the “duties and responsibilities for all of our leaders for the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch will continue to increase and be precedent as the world moves forward with all efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Current law sets allowances for lawmakers at $40,000 each for the Fono leaders and $30,000 for members — and the Fono can raise the allowance for a current sitting Legislature.
The new law increases the allowance for the Fono leaders to $60,000 each for the Senate President and House Speaker and hikes to $45,000 allowances for Fono members.
Justification for allowance increases, according to the bill’s preamble, is that lawmakers have additional challenges to their duties and responsibilities as the new Fono building is under construction and they do not have any offices where they can conduct meetings.
Additionally, lawmakers must find spaces in their homes or meet at restaurants in order to conduct businesses. “This arrangement necessitates additional expenses” for senators and faipule, the preamble states.
While the allowance is not considered income and therefore is not taxed, the lawmaker can — if he/ she chooses to — designate the allowance as income, making it taxable (and thus subject to FICA withholding that earns credits for Social Security benefits, as well as all other tax deductions including the local retirement percentage deduction).
Current law also sets the annual salaries of lawmakers. It states that the salary of the Senate President and House Speaker is $30,000; salary for other members of the Fono is $25,000; while it’s $20,000 for the Swains Island Delegate.