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FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez struck down a measure by the Navajo Nation Council to create the management plan for money the tribe received from the federal government to address the coronavirus pandemic.

"The president's line-item veto has unnecessarily delayed the release of Coronavirus Relief Funds to programs, chapters, non-profits and other entities," Speaker Seth Damon said in a release about the line-item veto Nez issued on May 30.

Damon vowed the tribal council will work quickly to distribute the funding to grassroots efforts, frontline workers, health care facilities and families who reside in remote areas and have the most immediate needs.

On May 6, the tribe received $600 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The CARES Act included a provision, the Coronavirus Relief Fund, that allocated $8 billion in emergency aid for tribal governments.

The 24-member council approved the bill — Legislation No. 0115-20 — on May 15 in a vote of 19 in favor and four opposed.

Nez wrote in his message to Damon on May 30 that using the funding must be a discussion among the three branches and with the tribe's overall interest in mind.

"Our Navajo Nation government is established with a balance of power among the three branches and no one branch should have unilateral authority over funds intended to benefit all members of the Navajo Nation and all branches of the Navajo Nation government," Nez wrote.

The release from Damon's office pointed out that the resolution from the tribal council was only establishing "the legal framework" for future spending and "did not make any actual appropriations or include any budget line items."

The release labeled the president's use of the line-item veto "illegitimate" because such authority can be exercised only on budget items in the annual comprehensive budget or supplemental funding approved by the council.

A line-item veto is not subject to an override by the council, according to the Navajo Nation Code.

Nez wrote that the council's resolution is subject to the line-item veto authority because it is an appropriation.

He based his explanation on a 2018 opinion by the then-attorney general for the tribe that stated, "the deposit of funds into a created fund is an appropriation as a budget resolution."

Delegate Edmund Yazzie is sponsoring a bill to initiate a fund for the CARES Act allocation as well as authorizing the president to establish a spending plan and create a working group to create expenditure plans.

That bill — Legislation No. 0116-20 — is on the proposed agenda for the June 2 teleconference meeting by the Budget and Finance Committee.

It is also assigned to the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee and the council, where final authority rests.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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