|Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that an Omnibus
Budget bill passed the House of Representatives on November 18th and the
Senate on November 19th. The bill contained funding normally in four
appropriations bills, including the Department of the Interior, through
which American Samoa receives much of its funding. American Samoa
may receive a very modest cut in its funding. If this happens, the
cut will be at the same percentage as all other agencies and departments
in the federal government.
“I am very pleased to report that the provision authorizing American
Samoa to borrow money from the federal government, using its proceeds from
the 46-state tobacco settlement, is included in the bill,” said Faleomavaega.
“And, as I had been informed, the final provision is better than
the House-passed version, in that if ASG chooses to borrow this money,
it will only have to pay back the money it borrows plus interest at a rate
of 5.4%. There will be no fees and no extra charges.”
“Although there was very little controversy over American Samoa’s
basic funding, there was considerable controversy over broader issues in
the Interior bill and other bills,” said Faleomavaega. “Most of these
controversies did not relate directly to American Samoa, but in the end,
to reach a final agreement, all departments were cut less than one-half
of one percent from proposed FY2000 levels, and we are included in that.
This was done to reduce the likelihood that taxes collected for social
security will be spent on other programs.”
Under the tobacco provision, American Samoa can obtain $18.6 million.
Of this amount, $14.3 million could be used for debt reduction, and $4.3
million for government reform. “Forty-six states and territories
are getting money from the tobacco lawsuit, and American Samoa is the only
jurisdiction getting an advance from the federal government. Many
people worked hard to make this an option for our local government, and
I especially want to thank the Governor for his initiative and support,
and the Fono leadership and the members of the Fono for their patience
in withholding judgment on the proposal until it was finalized,” said the
Faleomavaega went on to say, “Once the President has signed the
bill into law, I will be pleased to appear before the Fono to clarify the
details of the legislation and to respond to any questions the members
of the Fono may have.”
“I have read that there is some concern with one section of the
legislation which gives the local government the option to hire a management
consultant to carry out the details of the provision. It is important
to understand that the bill does not require that the government hire anyone.
This section was added to give the local government additional flexibility
in executing any agreement it may make with the Secretary of the Interior.
If ASG wants to perform all the work, in-house, with current staff, and
use all the money to pay off debt, it has the authority to do so,” responded
“Some of the other persons who deserve credit for their support
on the tobacco provision include Congressman Ralph Regula, Chairman of
the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, Congressman Norm Dicks
Subcommittee Ranking Member, and their staff Chris Topik and Del Davis.
Congressman Jack Kingston, a member of the Appropriations Committee also
stood up when American Samoa needed a friend at the committee level.
In the Senate, Senators Slade Gorton, Chairman of the Committee on Appropriations,
and Senator Daniel Inouye, a senior member of that Committee, made sure
we got the best terms possible. Members of their staffs that were
directly involved and fought off all attacks were Bruce Evans, Leif Fonnesbeck,
Mark Fox, and Josie Puletasi. Mr. Cliff Humphrey of the National
Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and Ms. Jan Lipsen, the Governor’s
Washington representative played critical roles as well.
Each federal department (with limited exceptions) will have to cut
its budget .38% from previously set FY2000 levels. If the cut is
spread evenly across all programs within the Department of the Interior,
American Samoa will receive $87,000 less for government operations, and
$38,000 less in CIP money than has been previously announced. “The
Secretary of the Interior has discretion to fully fund any program, or
cut any program up to 15%, and I will do all I can to ensure that American
Samoa is not cut any more than the across the board level of .38%,” said
the Congressman. The funding for our national park should be higher
than FY99 levels, but may also be cut slightly from planned FY2000 levels.
“On the positive side,” continued Faleomavaega, “the bill will provide
an additional $400,000 per year for the Children’s Health Insurance Program,
and an increase in the rates that medicare will reimburse the medical authority
for services provided to our elderly residents.”