Council attempting to override veto of CARES Act bill
The Navajo Nation Council has dropped, or introduced, override legislation (No. 0130-20) in response to President Jonathan Nez’s line-item veto of some provisions of the Council’s Navajo Nation CARES Fund Act. The bill was to be considered in committee on Wednesday after deadline for today’s edition.
On May 30, on the 10th day after Council passed the Navajo CARES Act, Nez line-item vetoed parts of the bill. Speaker Seth Damon accused Nez of trying to avoid an override by gutting the bill rather than vetoing it in whole. But Council introduced legislation to override Nez’s action.
Sponsored by Health, Education, and Human Services Committee Chair Daniel Tso, the override bill explains that the Navajo Nation CARES Fund Act only established the legal framework for expenditure plans. It did not include budget documents and does not appropriate any funds. The bill accuses Nez of abusing his veto power.
“The president’s line-item vetoes are all to policy language and do not strike out ‘budget items contained in the annual Navajo Nation Comprehensive Budget or supplemental appropriations’ as required by the 2009 initiative” that granted the president line-item veto authority, the legislation states.
“President’s line items also do not strike out any financial line items as allowed,” the bill states. With the resolution not taking any appropriation or financial actions, the line-item veto isn’t needed, and the president should have taken a regular veto action, which can be overridden, according to the bill.
Damon said during a June 5 Budget and Finance Committee meeting that, after consulting with Chief Legislative Counsel Dana Bobroff, he had determined the CARES Fund act constituted a fund management plan. “How are we going to go with an expenditure plan?” asked Damon, “First and foremost we have to build a fund management plan and that fund management plan is 0015-16.”
Nez stated in his veto memo that the legislative branch should not have unilateral authority over funds intended to benefit all members of the Navajo Nation and all branches of the Navajo Nation government. “It is evident that CMY-44-20, sponsored by Speaker Damon, was not supported by the Navajo people,” stated Nez. “Only four supporting legislative comments from the Navajo people are not sufficient to decide for the entire Nation.”
Nez said there were many issues and clarity was needed within the resolution. Nez has offered his own bill (No. 0116-20), supported by delegates Edmund Yazzie, Kee Allen Begay Jr., Edison Wauneka, Herman M. Daniels Jr., Paul Begay, Pernell Halona, Rickie Nez, Mark Freeland, and Jamie Henio. This bill passed Budget and Finance 4-1, and was headed to Naabikiyati Wednesday along with the override of the vetoed bill.
“There’s a focus now on spending $600 million,” said Nez during his virtual town hall meeting on Facebook Tuesday. “But you can’t get projects completed without reevaluating the laws.” His bill includes formation of a work group to identify policies, laws, and regulations that hinder the developing of projects and should be set aside.
“We are considered as any federal land throughout the country,” said Nez. “Park Service lands, Bureau of Land Management lands – we have to jump through all these federal regulations and hoops.”
The strict time limitations attached to the CARES Act funding give the Nation a chance to submit recommendations to possibly waive these policies. As for the so-called “red tape” within the Navajo Nation when it comes to moving forward with projects, Nez said the work group will submit a list of hindering policies and regulations to Navajo Nation Council that could be removed.
Another hallmark of Nez’s bill is the immediate $50 million expenditure that will go toward PPE and other items, if his legislation is passed. Although Damon’s bill did not include such a provision, he argued the Council could easily pass legislation appropriating money for immediate needs.
“If the Navajo Nation CARES Fund is in place right now and Ms. Bobroff says we are good to go,” said Damon, “fifty million … we can drop that legislation in today and have that go into the hopper or have a special session in order to get a special legislation.”
After introducing the override bill, Damon and Council continued with work sessions listening to department and program heads about how much funding they need and how the $600.5 million can help.
Damon gave 10 different plans as to where the dollars could possibly go. Plan A would grant most of the requests but cut them down somewhat. Even with the cuts, the total would come to $879 million — much more than the available CARES Act funds.
“That plan for CARES Fund cuts (requested) funding in all different programs,” said Damon, “except for those big three of water line, power lines, broadband.” Plan B would total $723 million; Plan C would fund only the top five areas suggested in public comments, which are water projects, power lines, broadband connectivity, Public Law 93-638 hospitals and PPE. These are the first three plans in consideration.
All would require extending the spending deadline from Dec. 31. Both Nez and Damon claim they have requested an extension from the U.S. government. The very last plan Damon discussed is a per-capita issuance. This would go to the 108,000 Navajos registered to vote, which he believes will increase to about 150,000 when people find out about it.
This plan would provide about $2,000 to anyone over 18 and registered to vote. Also, $50,000 would go to the next of kin of those who lost their life to COVID-19. “Other tribes are doing this because they see it as they can’t meet the deadline of the internal red tape,” said Damon.
Nez, however, argued a per-cap would not meet the guidelines of how the money is to be spent and would leave the tribe with no lasting benefits.
“The Cherokee Nation tried to do per capita but their attorney general looked at the U.S. Department of Treasury guidelines and said that wasn’t allowable,” said Nez. “Per capita, if you give a check to someone, where is it going to go? “A per capita would leave the Navajo Nation quickly and even spent here it’s still going to go off the Nation,” he said, “and we will still be in the same economic and community condition as last year.”