Guest Column: Council dipped into restricted funds
By Russell Begaye
Navajo Nation president
The people of the Navajo Nation gave the Office of the President and Vice President the ability to line-item veto any monies that are appropriated through legislation. The people gave this authority to OPVP in part because of how discretionary funds were being misused at the time by members of the Navajo Nation Council. Ultimately, this caused many delegates to be indicted and some were even sentenced to jail terms.
The FY 2017 General Budget was based on strategic planning and revenue projection totaling $173,494,000 million dollars, which had been agreed upon by the three branches — executive, legislative and judicial. The budget that was approved by Council went beyond the budget that the three branches agreed upon. It took money from restricted accounts like the Permanent Trust Fund, the Personnel Lapse Fund, the Undesignated Unreserved Fund balance and set-asides.
Because of this I used my line item veto authority to correct the additions and ensure that we stayed within the scope of our fiscal responsibility. I realize that monies were earmarked for good causes like the chapters, district grazing officials, the Navajo Area Agency on Aging, and veterans, but these monies were taken from restricted accounts.
It’s unprecedented that we set the budget by accessing restricted accounts for inconsistent purposes. This has never been done before in setting the general budget for the Nation. I believe that a financial move like this would open the door for monies to be taken from trust accounts like the Veterans Trust Fund, Land Acquisition Fund, and the Elder Trust Fund. I am not willing to open that door because it’s highly inappropriate.
Keep in mind that the Fiscal Year 2017 Comprehensive Budget was not devised solely by the OPVP. The budget was based on the FY 2017 General Fund Revenue Projection that the three branches specifically formulated together.
It was during Three Branch Chiefs meetings that we considered how the divisions could effectively prioritize the goals of the four pillars of the Begaye-Nez Administration, the three branch priorities (“One Nation, One Voice”), and the Strategic Management Plan priorities.
I am steadfast in maintaining my position that the budget we submitted, the same budget advocated by our division directors, strategically addressed the needs and priorities of the Navajo Nation government.
Regarding the FY 2017 Budget, council tried to move funds from the Permanent Trust Fund to General Funds. The Permanent Trust Fund account is used to account for expenses related to administering numerous fiduciary funds. As fiduciary funds, the Nation holds these funds as a trustee and when expending from these funds, we must adhere to statutory authorization.
Council’s actions of shifting funds from a fiduciary account to general funds potentially violates multiple statutes. Again, I could not ignore my fiduciary responsibility to the Nation in making sure our money was properly managed. Therefore, I again exercised my line-item veto authority in this instance.
Council tried to take money from the FY 2016 Personnel Savings Fund and allocate it to areas inconsistent with how this fund should be utilized. Pursuant to the Three Branch Chiefs Agreement dated June 21, 2016, we all agreed on how the Personnel Lapse/Savings Fund would be used.
If there were other uses for this Fund, they needed to be recommended and agreed upon between the Three Branch Chiefs as referenced in the agreement. As such, I exercised my line item veto authority in using these funds for anything not pursuant to our Agreement.
All programs received their allocations. The Chapters, NAAA, Veterans, and grazing officials, all were allocated monies to provide service in FY 2017. The dollars that were line-item vetoed were supplemental and in many cases not necessary.
Lastly, I feel it was petty for council to scrutinize the act of signing the FY 2017 Comprehensive Navajo Nation Budget. The act of line-item vetoing the FY 2017 Budget occurred within the territorial jurisdiction of the Navajo Nation at the OPVP on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016.
The fact that council is scrutinizing the dating of the FY 2017 budget, as it was dated on the day of delivery to the Office of the Speaker on Tuesday, Sept. 27, is a moot point. It appears that council is grabbing at straws to invalidate my line-item authority by shifting the focus towards areas inconsistent with the reality of the situation, just as they tried to capitalize on utilizing funds inconsistent with their authorized purposes. I will not tolerate inconsistencies on behalf of the Navajo people.
However, we do need to move beyond this matter. OPVP is currently working with members of council to address allocating funds from proper accounts back toward needed areas within the budget.
As president of the great Navajo Nation, I appreciate your support and will always act on behalf of the Navajo people to administer proper utilization of our resources.