Line-item veto proposal would force compromise

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, May 17, 2012

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P roposed amendments to the line-item veto power of the president would not remove or limit those powers, Budget and Finance Committee Chairman LoRenzo Bates said Tuesday.

Bates' statement set the stage for acting Chief Legislative Counsel Edward McCool's presentation to the B&F Committee, President Ben Shelly's chief of staff, Sherrick Roanhorse, and Shelly's legal counsel, Heather Clah.

McCool said the proposed amendments would recognize the president's line-item veto authority, which was granted by the people through a referendum, and the Council's power to appropriate revenue.

But the Council has not amended Navajo law to include the line-item veto power.

McCool noted that the amendments would also remove "conflict" between the president and the Council when the line-item veto is used.

He explained that the amendments include language that calls for a review of a draft annual operating budget by the president so "all budget line items the president intends to veto" can be identified.

The Council and president would then have a "reconciliation meeting" to reach a compromise, McCool said.

He added, "It involves a lot of good faith negotiations or both sides could pull the rug out from each other."

Clah said she was concerned about the word "shall" because "shall is too much of a directive to the president" by the Council.

The proposal states that the "president's review shall be completed and provided" to the Council 25 days prior to the end of each fiscal year.

The annual budget expires at the end of September and begins on Oct. 1.

The proposed amendments also issue mandates to the Council.

The Council "shall, no less than 30 days prior to the expiration of each fiscal year" send a copy of the budget to the president for review.

And after the president has identified what may be vetoed, the reconciliation meeting "shall occur no less than 25 days prior to the expiration of each fiscal year" to reach an agreement.

Clah also recommended that the proposal be placed in the budget instruction manual instead of law and that it only focus on the president's line-item veto power as given by the people.

"We don't need a law for how the legislative branch and executive branch should work together," she said.

Council Delegate Lorenzo Curley said that his greatest concern is how the money that is line-item vetoed is placed in a "shapeless, formless thing out there" instead of going back into the Undesignated Unreserved Fund.

But Curley said once a budget line item is vetoed those funds should not be dumped into a pool where the president and Council could re-appropriate those revenues for whatever they want.

Otherwise he said the president's decision to veto line items could be based on how much money might be needed later in the budget year.

"It becomes a fallback source of money that doesn't have the same scrutiny as the annual budget, supplemental funds and (Undesignated Unreserved Fund balance)," Curley said.

Council Delegate Nelson S. BeGaye agreed with Curley.

BeGaye recalled how Delegate Danny Simpson sponsored legislation that included a majority of the line-item budgets that Shelly vetoed in the 2012 budget, which the Council approved and Shelly didn't veto again.

"I agree with Curley, vetoed money should not be re-appropriated but left alone," he said.

Department of Justice attorney Marcelino R. Gomez explained that if the Council didn't re-appropriate vetoed money those funds could be used at the end of the budget year to cover unexpected costs. If that didn't happen the vetoed money would "roll into the UUFB," he said.

Council Delegate Mel R. Begay said he supported the amendments because it brings the Council and president together.

"The people have said that they want us to work together to do what is necessary to provide for us and our government," he said. "We have needs, they said. They didn't say, 'President take away what our delegates are promoting on our behalf.' I think that is what is happening now with the president's line-item veto power."

The Committee accepted McCool's report and directed the parties to come to a compromise and return with the results on June 19.

Bates said the goal is to have the amendments in place before the annual budget process begins, which usually is in June. The Council's budget session usually is in August.

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