Talauega confirms supplemental budget bill is on the horizon
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Speaking at yesterday’s question and answer session with local media, Acting Gov. Talauega Eleasalo V. Ale confirmed that the Administration is drafting a supplemental budget bill, but is awaiting the Fono’s final action on the government’s fiscal year 2022 budget bill, to be returned back to the Governor’s Office.
Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean informed senators last week Wednesday on the outcome of the Fono leaders meeting the day before with Talauega during which the lieutenant governor mentioned a proposed $12 million supplemental, and a $1 million allocation to the Fono to fund a Senate bill that seeks the increase of office expense allowances for lawmakers.
Tuaolo also informed senators that Talauega had requested the removal of salary hikes for the governor and lieutenant governor from the Senate bill, as this is not the appropriate time for Executive branch raises as there are other pressing matters.
While the Senate initially agreed with Talauega on removal of the provision it was later restored before the bill’s final passage and the legislation is now pending in the House. At the same time, the Fono is awaiting word from the Administration on the supplemental budget.
Asked about the $1 million allocation to the Fono and the supplemental budget during yesterday’s media briefing — as mentioned by the Senate President to senators, Talauega first pointed out that “meetings between the leaders and some of these things, are, in my mind, to be treated with a certain type of confidentiality, because there are things discussed during these meetings that should not be publicly announced.”
“Ultimately, we work for the public, eventually everything has to be put out in the public,” he said.
For the $1 million to the Fono, he explained that the Legislature’s initial FY 2022 budget submission was $9 million-plus but it was reduced to $8.1 million when the final budget plan was sent to lawmakers. “So the $1 million is basically returning that back to their budget,” he said.
On the supplemental budget, “we are working on a supplemental... to be provided to the Fono this week as soon as we receive the FY 2022 budget back from the Fono,” he said, noting that the Administration would like to have he FY 2022 first before “we submit the supplemental budget” to the Legislature.
(At this point, the Fono is waiting for word on the supplemental from the Administration before deciding on whether or not to take a short-mid session recess.)
He said the total supplement is $12.8 million funded with surplus from FYs 2019 and 2020. He explained that some of the surplus was used during the prior Administration but “still left us with a balance of approximately $12.8 million.”
With Talauega telling the Fono leaders to remove the salary hikes of the governor and lieutenant governor from the Senate bill, Samoa News asked, “So, why don’t you want an increase?”
Talauega responded, the “Governor and I, strongly believe that the leaders should first take care of our people that are working for the government — to make sure that they are taken care of in terms of compensation and other benefits before the leaders are to be given compensation.
“It’s just one of these principle things that the governor believes in. And would rather see our doctors, nurses, teachers — first get the pay raise they deserve before we turn to the leaders,” he said.
“The message that the governor has relayed to the Fono and to other leaders is that we ‘should lead by action’ and say ‘give the first chance to the employees and people’ on the ground to catch up before we look to the leaderships and provide any pay adjustment,” Talauega noted.
The Senate bill hiking salaries of the governor and lieutenant governor as well as the office expense allowance for lawmakers is pending in the House.
Senators have argued that the pay hikes for the Executive Branch leaders is not for the current leadership but for future generations.