Council lacks authority to change line-item veto

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan M. Nez
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye


Ya’at’eeh’ Shi’ Ke’ doo Shi’ Dine’

First, we have been honored to work for our Navajo People for the past year and 9 months. We appreciate your constant support and advocacy to this Office and the Divisions in responding and dealing with issues of the past. Now, we are asking for your advocacy to protect the line-item veto authority given to the president by the Navajo people.

On Dec. 15, 2009, the Navajo People voted on an initiative that would empower the Navajo Nation President with line-item veto authority. The text of the initiative is as follows:

“The President of the Navajo Nation will be authorized to exercise line item veto authority over budget items contained in the annual Navajo Nation Comprehensive Budget or supplemental appropriations approved by the Navajo Nation Council. Budget line items vetoed by the President of the Navajo Nation will not be subject to Navajo Nation Council override….If approved, this initiative may be repealed or amended by the initiative process only. (Italics added for emphasis.)

On June 25, 2010, former President Joe Shirley, Jr. made history and exercised the president’s first line-item veto for a supplemental appropriation, Resolution No. CJN-25-10. Since that time, this authority has been exercised many times over by President Shirley and former President Ben Shelly. Beginning in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015, the Navajo Nation presidents have vetoed set aside percentages, conditions of appropriations, and waivers of budget requirements as these are a part of the Navajo Nation budget. Although these do not hold a specific dollar amount, as the government moves into each new budget cycle these dollar amounts become known and the impacts could be trivial or substantial.

The Navajo Nation Council has introduced Legislation No. 0046-17, that will amend the president’s line-item veto authority by limiting that authority to remove the ability of the President to line-item veto conditions of appropriation.

This is completely contrary to the plain language of the initiative passed by the Navajo people. The initiative clearly states “budget items” in the “Navajo Nation Comprehensive Budget and supplemental appropriations” are subject to “line item vetoes.” In 2009, the intent of the line-item veto initiative was to protect the government from wasteful spending and ensure government fiscal efficiency and responsibility.  As such, this must include all aspects of the budget and not just the immediate appropriations, but also those budget items with a future impact, such as conditions of appropriations. In any case, these decisions were given by the People to the president not to the Navajo Nation Council.

Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez, left, listens to Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye deliver the State of the Nation address during the fall session on Oct. 17 in Window Rock, Ariz.

The Navajo Nation Council has overstepped its authority to amend and limit the Presidential line-item veto authority pursuant to the initiative passed by the Navajo people in 2009. The initiative clearly states, amendments to the initiative can only be through the “initiative process.”  In other words, only the Navajo people can amend this authority, not the Navajo Nation Council.

As the president and vice president of the Navajo Nation, it is our duty to not only listen, but protect the voice of the Navajo people. We respectfully ask our Navajo Nation Council to not challenge the initiative passed by our Navajo people. For it is the Navajo people who have elected and entrusted us to be their voice, to represent them and to advocate on their behalf.  We should never challenge the voice of our Navajo people. I ask for my People to rise and speak against this legislation as this is a decision for the Navajo people not the Navajo Nation Council. 

Legislation No. 0046-17 will go before the Budget and Finance Committee and they are final authority.