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Gov and Senate differ on partial line-item veto and law

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga is maintaining he was correct in the way he vetoed a line-item of the Legislature’s fiscal year 2014 budget, by reducing it by $625,000, instead of zeroing it out.


The Fono leaders last Friday had written to the governor to seriously reconsider his line-item veto, arguing among other things the action by the governor was considered to be appropriating funds, which is an authority that rests with the Fono under the Revised Constitution of American Samoa.


Responding to the Fono leaders, the governor in a letter late Wednesday this week pointed out that his position was based on the "plain" reading of the Constitution. (This is the same provision of the Constitution cited by the Fono leaders in their letter.)


According to the governor, that provision of the constitution states in part that, “If a bill presented to the Governor should contain several items of appropriation of money, he may object to one or more of such items, or any part or parts thereof, portion or portions thereof, while approving the other items, parts, or portions of the bill.”


Lolo said the administration disagreed with the Fono’s reduction of the budgets of the Governor’s Office and several Special Programs and then adding those funds — totaling $985,000 — to “Materials and Supplies” for the Legislature.


“We consider ‘Materials and Supplies’ to be an ‘item of appropriation’,” the governor wrote. “We line item vetoed a ‘part’ or ‘portion thereof, as we believe to be clearly authorized by the...Constitution.”


Lolo explained he didn’t line-item veto the entire $985,000 “based on our desire to work with the Legislature to the greatest extent possible, so as not to unnecessarily reduce your operating funds” below the Fono’s initial budget request — which was for $7.1 million.


“By reducing the line item veto by only $625,000, we returned your budget to the original amount submitted” to the Budget Office in June this year, he noted.


Lolo also shared that “by way of historical perspective”, the Legislature may wish to review a previous budget law, where the administration of the late Gov. A.P. Lutali “made extensive use” of the partial line-item veto.


In their letter to the governor, the Fono leaders pointed to media reports stating the governor is of the belief that the “partial” line-item veto was practiced in the past. The media reports were based on what the governor told a cabinet meeting last week, saying his administration is following “the same pattern that was practiced in the last few administrations” in the ‘partial’ line-item veto.


The Fono leaders said it “was actually the policy of the last two administrations to ‘zero out’ a portion of an appropriations bill, but they did not replace the number with their own.”


It’s unclear at this point as to what the next course of action the Fono leaders will take following this new letter from the governor.


The Senate had discussed during the special session earlier this week the possibility of taking this matter to court as their next course of action. However, they noted they will await a reply from the governor first. Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie told senators that he will return this issue to senators upon receiving a reply from the governor.


The special session ended Wednesday this week and lawmakers return Jan. 13, 2014 for the 3rd Regular Session.