B&F told available funds has dropped to $700,000

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

FARMINGTON, Feb. 23,2012

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O n Tuesday, the Navajo Nation Council's Budget and Finance Committee had a rude awakening.

The proposed $9 million in additional revenues available for appropriation by the Council next month has been whittled down to $700,000.

And B&F Committee Chairman LoRenzo Bates (Nenahnezad/Newcomb/San Juan/T'iistoh Sikaaad/Tse'Daa'Kaan/Upper Fruitland) said on Wednesday that the committee expects the $700,000 to drop even further.

The $9 million is part of $42 million in additional revenues that the tribe received as one-time payments from the Peabody lawsuit settlement, the renewal of the Four Corners Power Plant annual lease and other sources.

In January, the $42 million pie was cut up among the government's three branches under an agreement hammered out between the B&F Committee and three branch chiefs - President Ben Shelly, Chief Justice Herb Yazzie and Speaker Johnny Naize (Blue Gap-Tachee/Cottonwood-Tselani/Low Mountain/Nazlini/Many Farms).

Shelly, Yazzie and Naize recommended that $20 million remain in the Undesignated Unreserved Fund, which is on top of the legally mandated $17.3 million UUF balance; that more than $7 million be distributed among the three branches; that $5.6 million go to the 110 chapters; and that $9 million would basically be up for grabs by Council delegates and other programs.

On Feb. 7, the Office of Management and Budget reported to the committee that it had received about 77 requests that totaled about $80 million for the $9 million.

Bates, who is sponsoring legislation that carries out the branch chiefs' agreement, noted that the agreement and other requests for the $42 million are all only recommendations to the Council, which has final approval.

And he said Shelly has line-item veto authority over all the requests that the Council approves.

The Council is scheduled to meet on all the requests for the $42 million the week of March 19.

According to Bates' legislation, which is posted on the Council's website (www.navajonationcouncil.org/legislation.html), he maintains the branch chiefs' request for $7 million for the three branches and $5.6 million for the 110 chapters, which totals to more than $12.9 million.

The $12.9 million would fund Head Start; Administration Building 1; the 110 chapters; chapter district grazing officials; chapter Farm Boards, the Eastern Navajo Land Board; speaker's office; the Window Rock and Chinle judicial districts; Navajo Transit System; Air Transportation Department; Solid Waste Management; and Facilities Maintenance.

The online version of Bates' legislation did not have the attached budget for the $12.9 million, which would show the specific amounts for each program.

Bates did not include the $20 million of the $42 million that the branch chiefs agreed would remain in the UUF.

Bates explained that the law sets a mandatory UUF balance of 10 percent of the previous annual budget.

There is nothing in the law that allows the Council or president to keep an additional amount in the UUF, he said.

Bates said that each of the Council members received a copy of a Jan. 5 memo from him stating that the committee agreed to recommend to the Council that $20 million of the $42 million remain in the UUF, that $5 million be allocated to the 110 chapters, that about $7.4 million be used for matching funds and facilities renovation and displacements, and that $600,762 be earmarked for stipends for grazing officials and Land and Farm boards.

Under the branch chiefs' agreement, $10 million of the $20 million is for emergencies. The Appropriations Act defines an emergency as a threat to life, property and in some instances, Navajo Nation sovereignty.

On Tuesday, Bates and committee members Mel Begay (Ba'hastl'a'a'/Coyote Canyon/Naschitti/Mexican Springs/Tohatchi) and Nelson BeGaye (Lukachukai/Rock Point/Round Rock/Tsaile-Wheatfields/Tse Ch'izhi) agreed that the $20 million was not untouchable.

They also agreed that the Council could dip into the $20 million to increase the $9 million for delegates' projects and government and non-government programs.

Shelly initially described the $20 million as "untouchable," which meant it would only be used to offset automatic federal budget cuts that are scheduled to begin in January 2013.

About 44 percent of the tribal government's annual budget is funded by federal contracts and grants.

As of November, the 2011 budget had been closed out, leaving a $42 million balance in the UUF, mostly from one-time windfall payments that involved the Peabody lawsuit settlement, Four Corners Power Plant annual lease fees, and other sources. The $42 million is in addition to a required cash reserve of $17.3 million that is kept in the UUF.

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