President’s line-item vetoes are invalid
By LoRenzo Bates
Navajo Nation Speaker
As the Speaker of the 23rd Navajo Nation Council, I would like to provide the facts to our Navajo people regarding the Navajo Nation’s budget for Fiscal Year 2017.
On Sept. 8, the Navajo Nation Council approved the comprehensive budget for the new fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1. This comprehensive budget is what provides funds to programs that help the people.
On Sept. 27, President Russell Begaye used the presidential line-item authority 17 times to deny funding for crucial programs, such as $1.4 million in additional funds for the Navajo Area Agency on Aging to help the program restore working hours for its employees to 80 hours per pay period and to provide more direct services for our Navajo elderly people.
However, President Begaye was in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 27, which is the same date that appears on the budget resolution along with his signature. Upon the approval of the council, the speaker is required to certify the resolution prior to it being delivered to the president’s office. Once it is delivered to the president’s office, the president then has 10 days to take action on the resolution.
Navajo Nation law clearly states that the president must be within the territorial jurisdiction of the Navajo Nation when he executes line-item veto resolutions. This means to he must be within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation.
The president was not in the Navajo Nation on the date that appears on the resolution nor on the veto message. Therefore the Office of Legislative Counsel has determined that the line-item vetoes are not valid. The fact is that both are official government documents that are legally binding. The resolution was signed; however, the message had a stamped signature.
Title II of the Navajo Nation Code clearly states, “All acts of vetoing the resolution shall occur within the territorial jurisdiction of the Navajo Nation as described in 7 N.N.C. Section 254.”
On Oct. 3, the Office of the President and Vice President issued a press release stating that President Begaye signed the budget on Sept. 24, despite the fact that OPVP also issued a press release on Sept. 28 that included the following statement:
“That sentiment was expressed on Sept. 27, when Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye executed his line item veto authority in 17 areas of the comprehensive budget that was approved by the tribal council on Sept. 8.”
It’s clear that President Begaye is inconsistent and misinforming the public. His accusation that this is a ‘frivolous’ issue is unfounded. This is a serious matter that would have affected many of our people had the line-item vetoes been valid. Words have meaning and leaders must choose their words carefully. The matter is not “frivolous”; it impacts the integrity of the Navajo Nation.
The Office of the Speaker delivered the memo and the legal opinion issued by the Office of Legislative Counsel to the Office of the President and Vice President on Monday afternoon, despite claims in a press release from OPVP that the information was shared with the media prior to the memo being delivered.
The president’s accusation of giving information to the press before giving it to his office is only another way the president tries to avoid the fact that his actions are invalid.
President Begaye took an oath of office to abide by the laws of the Navajo Nation. He should follow our laws and let our elders, veterans, chapters, and others benefit from the peoples’ funds.
OPVP’s Oct. 3 press release also stated that the council attempted to rescind the presidential line-item veto authority; however, there has never been legislation introduced to do so. The legislation introduced was to clarify the line-item veto authority.
In addition, I issued a memorandum to Dominic Beyal, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Controller Jim Parris informing them of President Begaye’s invalid action and instructing them to carry out the budget that was approved by the council.
President Begaye has had the opportunity on numerous occasions to meet with council to discuss the budget and he did not. This affects our constituents. I expect the local chapters will respond to the president’s action. Delegates will be available to discuss this issue at the chapters.
These are facts and yet President Begaye is attempting to misinform the public and mislead our people. The Council will continue to stand on facts and advocate for our Navajo People.