Senators described as “unconstitutional” Gov. Benigno R. Fitial's line-item veto of the fiscal year 2013 budget bill provision on a $200,000 retroactive salary payment for Rota workers, and were thinking yesterday of whether to take the matter to court or override the veto if the governor does not reconsider his action.
The senators were citing a five-page legal opinion penned by Senate counsel Antonette R. Villagomez stating that Fitial's line item veto of the $200,000 earmarked for Public Law 7-31 salary adjustments is “an unconstitutional veto of a condition/restriction of an appropriation bill as written and thus a nullity.”
Sen. Juan Ayuyu (Ind-Rota) and Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian) sought clarification on the legal aspect of the governor's line-item veto, and suggested a Senate override of the governor's veto or bring the matter to court.
Rather than bring the matter to court, Senate floor leader Pete Reyes (R-Saipan) suggested that the Senate write a letter to the governor expressing its concern about the line-item veto and attach a copy of the Senate legal opinion pointing to its unconstitutionality.
“This is our problem. We don't communicate with the Executive Branch. We should begin the healing process,” Reyes said, adding that the money spent on bringing this matter to court could be better spent on the hospital and the NMI Retirement Fund, among other things.
Reyes clarified that he supports giving the retroactive salary payments to Rota workers who have been waiting for it since the 7th Legislature.
Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota), during yesterday's session, said there are three ways the Senate will address the matter: Write a letter to the governor, override the line-item veto, or submit a certified question to court.
Manglona said if during the next session and the governor has not heeded the Senate request to reconsider his line-item veto, the Senate may have to override veto or bring it to court.
“This [budget law that was line-item vetoed] is a product of a joint conference committee. Yet he chose to veto it,” Manglona said.
The governor, in his message to the Legislature in signing the $114-million 2013 budget, said the section about the Rota retroactive salary payment “fails to include any form of accountability as to how many government employees are owed and how much each is owed.” He then disapproved this provision.
Manglona said the Department of Finance has the records.
“To say there is no process [of accounting] is not an excuse. If there's no satisfactory response from the governor, we will make a make a motion to override. The House understands that because they approved this [budget bill],” he said.
The Fitial administration has yet to comment on the Senate's decision, as of last night.