Council awaits Shelly priorities for windfall cash

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, May 19, 2012

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M ore than $59.1 million in requests for supplemental funding is making its way to the Navajo Nation Council for final approval.

That's as of April 17.

Most of the proposals would affect the executive branch, and the Navajo Nation Council's Naa'bik'iyáti' Committee and Budget and Finance Committee are looking to Shelly to prioritize the list, especially since there is only about $42 million available.

A total of 42 separate requests are involved. Among them is $12.9 million to be divided between the three branches, part of an agreement hammered out by the three branch chiefs in January. LoRenzo Bates (Nenahnezad/Newcomb/San Juan/T'iistoh Sikaad/Tsé Daa K'aan/Upper Fruitland) is sponsoring the measure.

In their agreement, the three branch chiefs recommended that the $42 million available for supplemental funding be cut up in the following manner:

  • $20 million to stay in the Undesignated Unreserved Fund. This would be in addition to the legally required reserve, set at $17.3 million this year;
  • More than $7 million for the three branches, to help make up for the shortfall between needs and anticipated revenues this year.
  • $5.6 million for the 110 chapters.
  • $9 million for other requests, to be decided by the Council. These requests could come from delegates, tribal agencies, or non-government organizations.

    Bates' $12.9 million supplemental funding legislation includes the $7 million for the three branches and $5.6 million for the chapters. The following is a breakdown of the $12.9 million, as outlined in the branch chiefs' agreement:

  • $3 million for Navajo Head Start;
  • $1.5 million for the Solid Waste Management Program;
  • $43,000 for the Air Transportation Department;
  • $1.5 million to make Administration Building 1, closed for mold problems, safe for occupancy;
  • $5 million for the community needs of the 110 chapters;
  • $225,000 for the Chinle Judicial District;
  • $78,000 for the Window Rock Judicial District;
  • $600,000 for the Office of the Speaker;
  • $600,762 for district grazing officials, the Eastern Navajo Land Board and the Navajo Nation Farm Board.

The remaining 41 spending requests total $46.2 million, and are in competition for the $9 million that's up for grabs under the branch chief agreement. A majority of those requests would fund executive branch programs.

On Monday, Shelly told the Council that he would begin vetoing any and all supplemental legislation that come to his desk after the $9 million balance is reached.

Sherrick Roanhorse, chief of staff for Shelly and Vice President Rex Lee Jim, said last week that Shelly is "adamant" about keeping $20 million in reserve.

Roanhorse's comment came after he heard some delegates suggest that the $20 million be added to the $9 million up for grabs.

The Naa'bik'iyáti' Committee made an effort to prioritize the spending proposals after learning that they far exceeded the amount of money available, even if the entire $42 million was used.

But in the end, committee members agreed that Shelly should do it, citing his Oct. 24, 2011, executive order to those in his branch "to be fiscally responsible and accountable in order to maximize resources and serve the Navajo people to the best of its ability."

The order set forth standards for supplemental spending requests, which included the absence of negative audits findings and review by Shelly before being presented to the Council and its committees.

On April 6, the Budget and Finance, at the direction of the Naa/bik/iyáti' Committee, sent Shelly 33 supplemental legislation, including Bates' legislation for $12.9 million for the three branches.

Nineteen of the 33 bills would fund programs in the Executive Branch, ten would fund Legislative Branch programs, two would assist non-tribal government programs, and two would be for programs in the three branches.

Up to the prez

On April 5, Office of Management and Budget Director Dominic Beyal reported to the Council that at that point there were 41 funding proposals involving about $44.3 million under review within the executive branch.

Beyal also reported that OMB had received 34 spending bills totaling about $56.6 million, and $42 million in available cash, all that is left of an unprecedented windfall of one-time payments to the tribe this year.

Beyal said 22 of the 34 are primarily for the executive branch, 11 for the legislative branch, two for the judicial branch, and six for the chapters. Five more proposals have been added since then.

"OMB has recommended a planned and orderly process to identify priorities and then base appropriations on those priorities," he said.

Beyal reminded the Council that their 2012 budget bill directed the branch chiefs to prioritize their unmet needs for possible later funding.

"The oversight committees and/or Budget and Finance Committee could review the branch chiefs' priorities within the scope of oversight and make recommendations to the Navajo Nation Council," Beyal suggested.

Roanhorse said the budget committee and OMB had a process for supplemental requests that, had they followed it, would have resulted in a balanced spending plan for the money available.

"Unfortunately the process was put to the side because a few delegates wanted the process to be open-ended," he recalled, referring to the Council's decision to allow the standard free-for-all in which any delegate can offer a spending bill and the best politickers prevail when it comes to the vote.

Roanhorse explained that the open-ended process allowed all the delegates, instead of oversight committees, to sponsor supplemental funding legislation.

"When that happened, the executive office was unable to track every supplemental request," he said.

Beyal also reminded the Council about the branch chiefs' agreement to recommend that $20 million remain in the reserves, along with the mandatory $17.3 million.

The term "untouchable" for the $20 million was first used in November by Shelly, when he recommended that $25 million of the $42 million in extra cash be considered an untouchable emergency trust fund.

Shelly made the recommendation after the so-called "Supercommittee" in Congress failed to agree on a federal deficit reduction plan, which triggered automatic spending cuts that will hit the Navajo Nation hard.

According to the controller's office, about 44 percent of the tribe's annual operating budget is funded by federal dollars. The fiscal 2012 budget of $566.7 million includes about $251.3 million in federal contracts and grants.

The $25 million proposal dropped to $20 million after Shelly, Yazzie, Naize and the Budget and Finance Committee drew up a plan for the $42 million in windfall cash.

Shelly has until Friday, April 20, to convey his recommended priorities to the Budget and Finance Committee and Council.

But on Monday, Shelly told the Council that he would begin making his recommendations on the 33 supplemental legislation next week.

Bates said on Tuesday that if Shelly chooses not to meet the April 20 deadline then the Council will continue with it's legislative process to meet and take action on all the supplemental requests with or without Shelly.

"The request to the president was an attempt to work together," he noted.

Bates added that there is nothing preventing Shelly from meeting with the other two branch chiefs - Chief Justice Herb Yazzie and Speaker Johnny Naize (Blue Gap-Tachee/Cottonwood-Tselani/Low Mountain/Nazlini/Many Farms)- to make recommendations to the Council on the 33 supplemental requests.

Meanwhile, the individual spending bills will continue going through committee review and eventually reach the Council for a vote.

Bates said that no date has been set for the Council session on supplemental requests.

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