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Approval of Navajo Nation fiscal year budget causes legal review
FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye has signed the tribe's fiscal year 2019 budget, and his action has caused a council delegate to question its legality.
That question resulted in a ruling by the tribal council's chief legislative counsel that a deadline extension granted to the president last month is not supported by tribal law. He found that the budget Begaye filed after the original deadline — containing the president's line-item vetoes — is not legally valid.
The situation means there are two versions of a budget, and tribal officials did not confirm Monday to The Daily Times which of those budgets will be used going forward.
Dominic Beyal, the executive director for the Office of Management and Budget, could not be reached for comment on Monday.
Council sent budget last month
The Navajo Nation Council approved a comprehensive budget on Sept. 4 and it was submitted to the president's office on Sept. 10.
Begaye had 10 calendar days after the resolution was submitted to his office to sign, veto or use his line-item authority on the measure. He signed the budget on Sept. 21 and used his line-item veto authority to eliminate 31 budget items.
His action produced a "fiscally responsible budget" that concentrated on funding for chapters, veterans and the program for AMBER Alert while "rejecting budgetary inefficiencies and eliminating unnecessary spending limitations," the Sept. 24 press release from his office states.
"By using his line-item veto authority, President Begaye brought the budget into closer alignment with the draft approved and submitted by the chiefs of all three branches of the government," the release states.
The council does not have the authority to override line-item vetoes, and the tribe's fiscal year started Oct. 1, according to tribal law.
Which budget is valid?
Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty questioned the legality of the president's action last week after she noticed Begaye signed the budget and issued his memorandum a day after the 5 p.m. deadline on Sept. 20.
Crotty said on Monday she was concerned the statutory time frame for the president to review, sign or veto a resolution was not followed and most of line-item vetoes he made will hurt direct services to tribal members.
"My concern is the legal process," Crotty said.
On Sept. 24, she requested Chief Legislative Counsel Levon Henry to review the effect on a resolution when it is not signed by the president within the 10-day period and whether tribal law allows for an extension.
Henry issued a written opinion on Sept. 28 that analyzed the president's authority and the Appropriations Act, which is the mandated process for the annual comprehensive budget.
He stated there is no portion of tribal law that allows a waiver of the 10-day requirement and the consequence of the president not acting within the allowed period is a waiver of the authority to sign or veto legislation.
Ruling favors Council's plan
With that in mind, the budget resolution passed by the council is "valid and effective" for fiscal year 2019, Henry wrote.
Henry's opinion mentioned a meeting that occurred on Sept. 17 between representatives from the executive and legislative branches to discuss two issues regarding the budget resolution.
The president's office requested additional time to complete the budget review during the meeting, he wrote.
When asked on Monday about the meeting, Begaye provided a memorandum from Speaker Bates that extended the deadline to 3 p.m. on Sept. 22.
"We were provided an extension by memorandum. The budget I signed is absolutely legal," Begaye said.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.