Gov "very comfortable" with line item veto in Fono budget
Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga told directors the administration did a “fairly good job” and he felt “very comfortable” when he line-item vetoed a portion of the fiscal year 2014 budget, reducing the Fono’s budget under the “materials and supplies” budget item.
The Fono cut $985,000 from the Governor’s Office and seven Special Programs and reallocated that money to themselves, hiking materials and supplies to just over $2 million, but the governor reduced it by $625,000, and noted it would be available for appropriation later by the Fono.
During yesterday’s cabinet meeting, the governor told directors that after consulting with Attorney General Afoa L.S. Lutu, the governor’s chief legal counsel Steven Watson and ASG Treasurer Dr. Falema’o ‘Phil’ M. Pili, the bill was signed into law with the line-item veto.
“We feel very comfortable with the signing of the bill into law, and we hope that we did what is in the best interest of our people,” Lolo said. “I know the Fono still has some concerns over the way which the bill was [line-item] vetoed, but that’s up to another branch [of government] to decide whether we did right or not.”
The line-item veto was discussed by the Senate on Tuesday and the matter is now up to the Fono leaders to decide upon their best “option” to consider at this point. Senate legal counsel Henry Kappel told senators the action taken by the governor was “improper” because he reduced an amount in materials and supplies and put in his own numbers.
Kappel said this action is considered appropriating funds, which is the authority of the Fono. His legal opinion was supported by the senators. However, he also said the governor’s line-item veto, used correctly, should have zeroed out the total amount of the line item, not adjusted the amount (see yesterday’s edition for more details).
During the cabinet meeting, the governor said his administration is following “the same pattern that was practiced in the last few administrations.” Lolo also said he didn’t want to “create an issue with the the Legislature” by line-item vetoing the whole amount under materials and supplies.
“So we opted to do it the other way” by reducing the amount of money for materials and supplies and “we did it that way, under the guidance of our legal staff and the attorney general. I think we did a fairly good job.”
And “if the Fono wishes to pursue [it] further, that will be their prerogative and that’s the way this democracy should work. For us to find out whether we did right or wrong, the other branch will do that,” he said, referring to the Judicial branch.
He also told directors with the FY 2014 budget signed into law without any changes to any of their budgets — except for the Governor’s Office and seven Special Program projects — that everyone must comply with the approved budget.
“After the first year, we should have learned all the tricks in the budgeting and this will be the best year of our administration,” Gov. Lolo said. “Foremost we need to make sure that we comply with the law. The anti deficiency act provides for us to live within [our] means.”
“So it's your responsibility, as a director, to know your numbers. If anything, that’s your problem. You as director will be legally responsible, when the law is violated, and both myself and the lieutenant governor will be liable to the same responsibility,” he noted.
The governor pointed out that the administration, which has been in office for nine months, has taken every necessary measure to make sure the government is run the way that it does to serve the people.
“I trust that we have gained experience in these nine months and we like to see that we have served the people in the best way that we can,” Lolo said.
According to the governor, the directors — thus far — have been collaborating with each other, adding he has been in government for over 41 years and this is the first time, “that I’ve seen directors in this government… getting together and finding ways to solve problems.”
He acknowledged there have been “ups and downs... we all find our small ways of liking or not liking each other, but the bottom line, we are professionals, we come together to find better ways to serve our people.”
Lolo concluded, “The lieutenant governor and I are both very thankful that we have a cabinet of this caliber,” and noted that his staff, sitting in the back of the meeting venue, are there to serve the cabinet.
In a statement posted on yesterday’s meeting agenda, the governor said, “our success depends on our cabinet working at arm’s length with each other to push for the accomplishment of our administration’s declared goals based on our fundamental belief in total accountability, unity, transparency and equity.”