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Pay increases for gov and lt gov off the table per request of admin

Senate chamber
Final discussions on FY 2022 budget convenes Friday

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Following a meeting with Acting Gov. Talauega Eleasalo Ale on Tuesday, the Fono will convene tomorrow, Friday, for final discussion on the fiscal year 2022 budget and senators will amend a Senate bill, taking out pay increases for the governor and lieutenant governor.

This was the conclusion of a special Senate committee of the whole conference yesterday morning, called after the opening of the Upper Chamber’s session, so that Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean can brief senators on the Fono leaders meeting with Talauega.

Tuaolo informed senators that he would lead the meeting along with House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale, and raise issues that were concerns from lawmakers including senators.

One issue is the teacher pay scale, which Tuaolo said was a tough issue for discussions and that Talauega was informed that the Senate has its own version pending to make legal the pay increases implemented by the Administration in May this year.

Another issue of concern — raised during the Fono Joint Budget Committee hearing — is Executive Branch directors who didn’t come before the Fono for confirmation, while the budgets of their offices are included in the FY 2022 budget plan.

Talauega’s response was, according to Tuaolo, for the Fono to submit the names of those directors to the Governor’s Office. Tuaolo informed senators that the Fono leaders are preparing a list of directors for the Governor’s Office.

However, he said the Criminal Justice Planning Agency director post was never part of the Fono confirmation process in the past except during the time, of one of the directors, who wanted his name confirmed by the Fono and was the reason it was submitted by the governor at the time and confirmed by the Fono.

Tuaolo said the acting governor was also informed that the Senate is going through the final passage process of a Senate bill that will raise the salaries of the governor and lieutenant governor as well as the office expense allowance for lawmakers.

And if the Administration signs this Senate bill into law, upon passage by the Fono, then lawmakers will move to give final approval to the FY 2022 budget, according to the Senate President, who also said that Talauega had requested to remove the provision on the salaries of the governor and lieutenant governor as the ASG and the Administration is currently faced with several major pressing issues.

Tuaolo recalled Talauega saying that an allocation of $1 million will be made available to carry increases for lawmakers’ office allowance.  Based on his calculation, Tuaolo said the hike for allowances totals $500,000.

And the Administration has a $12 million supplemental appropriations bill, to be submitted soon. Specific details will be provided with the supplemental bill when submitted.

With the issues resolved at the meeting, Tuaolo informed senators that the House has requested a Senate and House conference tomorrow at 8a.m. to deal with the FY 2022 budget.

After Tuaolo’s remarks, following a lengthy discussion that lasted for about 35-minutes, with Sen. Togiola T.A. Tulafono saying that he disagrees with reasons given by Talauega, describing them as “political” and that should never be the case.

Togiola argued — among other things — the goal and focus of the Senate bill is for future government leaders of the Executive Branch and “not for Lemanu and Talauega”. He said, it’s for “future leaders” and repeated again, its not for “Lemanu and Talauega”.

He said the annual salary of the Chief Justice of the High Court, is about $130,000 — funded by the US Interior Department — compared to only $85,000 for the governor, who is the head of the entire American Samoa government.

The senator suggested keeping the bill intact and moving forward with passage in which the salary of the governor increases from $85,000 to $120,000 and the lieutenant governor from $75,000 to $100,000 annually.

Tuaolo responded that he made similar statements during the meeting, but Talauega maintained his stand.  At the end of the meeting, it was agreed upon to remove the salary increases for the governor and lieutenant governor.

Other senators spoke in support of Togiola’s argument, with Sen. Tuiagamoa Tavai pointing out that even salaries of CEOs of some semi-autonomous agencies are much more — than what the governor and lieutenant governor each make.

However, before the conclusion of the conference, Togiola withdrew his motion, saying that it would be inappropriate for the Senate to go against a decision by the Fono leaders during the meeting with Talauega.

The final decision is that the Senate bill will be amended, taking out the salary increases of the governor and lieutenant governor and will be reported to the Senate floor today — with amendments —  before senators take a final vote on the legislation.

When the Senate session resumed, senators approved in third and final reading the Senate bill amending the local law on the pay scale for local Department of Education personnel. The legislation would legitimize the new teacher pay scale and salary reclassification for ASDOE that went into effect in May this year. (See yesterday’s Samoa News edition for details of the bill.)

Also approved in third and final reading yesterday, is the Senate version of the Administration bill, that would amend local tax laws, allowing the ASG Treasury to distribute thousands of dollars under the federal Advance Child Tax Credit program from provisions of the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. (See yesterday’s edition for details.)