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Senate seeks to challenge ‘partial line-item veto’

The Senate has tabled its version of the administration’s fiscal year 2014 supplemental of $625,000 — meant to repair roads in the Eastern District — while it moves forward to challenge in court the way Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga made a “partial” line-item veto in the FY2014 budget last September.


Senators reached the decision during their discussion yesterday on this measure which was one of four issues on the agenda for the special session called by Acting Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga.


Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono was the first to move for the bill to be tabled in committee, while the Senate takes a look at the original concern voiced last year, over the way the governor line-item vetoed the FY 2014 budget.


Senators were in agreement that the line-item veto was not in accordance with the Constitution and the law, and Soliai noted that the Senate has agreed to have the matter resolved by the judicial branch.


The funding for the supplemental measure comes from the $625,000 that was line item vetoed in the FY 2014 budget. But senators challenged the legality of the way the line veto was carried out.


Rather than line-item veto the entire amount, the governor reduced the appropriated amount for materials and supplies for the Fono by $625,000 (reducing it to $1.58 million) and the $625,000 was to remain unappropriated, pending further action by the Fono.


The Fono’s Legal Counsel Henry Kappel told senators last October that 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.


The governor insisted, in his communication with Fono leaders, that his action, the “partial” line-item veto, was still in accordance with local laws, but senators disagreed.


During yesterday’s committee hearing, Sen. Leatualevao Asifoa suggested rethinking the idea of taking the governor to court, saying that there are only six months left in the current fiscal year and it appears the Fono’s legal team is slow in moving this issue to court.


He suggested that the Senate look toward the new fiscal year to address this matter, if it resurfaces. Two other senators agreed.


However, Sen. Mauga T. Asuega reminded his colleagues that the Fono’s role is to establish laws and the executive's role is to enforce law, but if there is a conflict in the way the two branches carry out their duties, then it needs to be corrected to prevent it from happening again.


“If we don’t do it now, when?” he asked, noting that the only way to resolve the executive branch’s action is to have it decided by the court. “We can’t continue to go on like this. Let’s set the correct precedent now for the future,”said Mauga.


After two other senators spoke, Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie said that the proposed action by the Senate is not to take the governor to court, but to take the issue of the line-item veto to court for proper interpretation.


What the Senate is proposing here is to correct this issue to ensure that it does not happen in the future, Gaoteote said, and noted that reducing dollar amounts in an appropriation bill is the responsibility of the Fono, not the executive branch.


He noted that the Fono’s legal team is still working on this very important issue, before the final move to take a legal challenge to court pertaining to the language of the law. He said the governor's action defeats the entire purpose of the budget process.


The Senate president recalled the governor saying that the action was a “partial” line-item veto, but there is no such provision of the law, dealing with a “partial line-item veto” — a point made clear by the Fono’s attorneys last year.


Mauga later in the hearing asked Gaoteote and House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale to discuss this matter directly with the governor, saying that his suggestion is based on the fact the Senate is made up of traditional leaders, “tama o le atunu’u”, or fathers of the country who must work first in resolving matters through traditional Samoan channels.


Gaoteote responded that there was communication with the administration last year about this same issue and the administration has maintained its stand, based on the interpretation of the law by their attorneys.


However, the Fono’s legal team has made clear to senators that this type of “partial” line-item veto is not in accordance with the law, Gaoteote said, and reminded senators that the Senate is not suing the governor — but challenging the interpretation of the law by the administration.


After other senators spoke, there was an unanimous decision to table the bill for now.


Meanwhile, the House approved yesterday in second reading the same bill after amending it to state that $300,000 goes to the Fono and the rest will go to road repairs. The bill goes through third and final reading in the House today.


However, whatever decision is made by the House, the Senate has already made their decision on the measure, and the Senate is expected to also table the House version.