Fono wants Lolo to rethink partial line item veto
The Fono leaders have asked Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga to seriously reconsider his “partial” line-item veto of the fiscal year 2014 budget which affects the Legislature’s budget, and the Fono at this point is not ruling out taking the matter to court to be resolved.
In approving the FY 2014 budget in to law, the governor reduced the $985,000 the Fono cut from other services and reallocated to the Legislature’s “Materials and Supplies” budget item.
Rather than line-item veto the entire amount, the governor reduced the appropriated amount for materials and supplies by $625,000 to $1.58 million and the $625,000 is to remain unappropriated, pending further action by the Fono.
Last week, the Fono’s Legal Counsel Henry Kappel told senators such an action — reducing, and not ‘zeroing out’ the budget line-item — is ‘improper’, as the governor has taken it upon himself to legislate and appropriate money, something that is outside his jurisdiction.
Last Friday, Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie and House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale sent a joint letter to the governor, whom they thanked for approving the FY 2014 budget and for the cooperation displayed by directors during the budget hearings last month, and brought up the line-item issue, citing the governor’s lack of authority to insert another dollar amount into the budget per the local Constitution.
“By inserting your chosen figure, you have engaged in appropriating government funds, which authority clearly falls exclusively to the Fono,” the letter says. “Good governance calls for following the law and obviously includes respect for our Constitution and the separation of powers it implements.”
The Fono letter also points to local law that provides the Legislature with “full authority and control” of funds in its budget, “which does not require the Fono to provide justification for its object class appropriations as you maintain in your correspondence, and you use as a basis for your line-item veto.”
(The governor told the lawmakers they have increased their budget without justification or explanation for such action.)
Additionally, the preamble of the local law (Public Law 19-02) “emphasize the separation of powers principle, which we view as being violated here and not in the interests of good governance.”
The letter pointed to media reports stating that the governor is of the belief that the “partial” line-item veto was practiced in the past.
(Samoa News should point out that the media’s report was based on the governor’s comments at last Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, where he 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 Legislature” by line-item vetoing the whole amount under ‘Materials and Supplies’.)
In the letter, the Fono leaders say they “disagree”, adding 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.”
“To allow such a practice can result in an arbitrary and capricious act of ‘appropriation’ by the governor, which we can develop from your recent action and which can set an unacceptable precedent,” the letter said.
“While this issue may not be closed, we would ask that you give your position serious consideration and we appreciate the time you have committed to this significant issue,” the Fono leaders concluded.
At last Friday’s session, Sen. Galeai Tu’ufuli inquired about the status of the Fono leaders’ response to the line-item veto, following a Senate meeting last week to discuss the matter.
Gaoteote replied a letter was to be sent to the governor. He said the Fono leaders believe when the line-item veto was exercised, the Materials and Supplies should have had a “zero” amount, instead of the governor appropriating a new figure for this budget item.
Galeai said the newspaper had reported on the governor’s reasons for the veto, and the governor’s action violates the local constitution as far as appropriating money, which is the Fono’s duty and authority.
Galeai recalled last week’s Senate meeting where Fono legal counsel Henry Kappel suggested using the word “improper” to describe the way the governor used his line-item veto authority. He said “improper” is too light of a word and there should be a much stronger word. He also referred to media reports where the governor stated the Fono has another recourse if they decide to pursue the matter further. Galeai said that recourse is the court — who can make the final decision on this issue.
Gaoteote noted the governor’s letter in approving the FY 2014 and his line-item veto calls for “transparency” and “good governance” — which is what the Fono is doing, but the governor is not following the same practice.
The Senate president then told senators that a young man once said: “Walk your talk, and talk your walk”.
He also acknowledged that lawmakers wouldn’t have any office allowances if the governor properly exercised his line-item veto power by “zeroing” out the materials and supplies budget item — which is where office allowances are listed in the Fono budget.
Lolo told a cabinet meeting last Wednesday that the way his line-item veto was carried out — reducing materials and supplies by adding on a new figure — “was under the guidance of our legal staff and the attorney general.”