Shelly vetoes $8.7 million in budget line items

By Alastair Lee Bitsóí
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Oct. 3, 2013

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Even though President Ben Shelly signed the fiscal year 2014 comprehensive budget into law, he has also exercised his line-item veto authority, saving the tribe more than $8.7 million in supplement appropriations requested by the Navajo Nation Council.

On Sept. 9, the Navajo Nation Council passed a record $587 million comprehensive budget to operate the tribal government by a vote of 16-1. The proposed budget, which had 34 amendments attached to it mostly consisting of their supplemental requests, left the tribe's reserve, the Undesignated Unreserved Fund Balance just $107 dollars over the current required minimum of $17.3 million. The Council had also funded some items from the Personnel Lapse Fund.

With Shelly's vetoes, the UUFB is up to a much heftier $7.7 million over its minimum.

In a Sept. 27 memo addressed to Speaker Johnny Naize and the Council, Shelly explained that the Council delegates requesting the supplemental appropriations had failed to comply with tribal law.

"It is important the budget supplemental request complies with the Navajo Nation Appropriations Act, all policies and procedures created by the FY 2014 Budget Instructions and Policies Manual and other pertinent Navajo laws," Shelly wrote.

Tribal law prohibits the Council from overriding the president's line item veto authority, pursuant to Title 2 of the Navajo Nation Code. Under the law, Shelly is authorized to exercise line-item veto authority over budget items contained in the annual Navajo Nation comprehensive budget or supplemental appropriations approved by the Council.

The money saved by the vetoes now returns to the coffers of the UUFB except for $994,000 which reverts to the Personnel Lapse Fund.

In September, Council had approved about $7.9 million in supplemental requests from the UUFB, and approximately $6.3 million in supplemental requests from the Personnel Lapse Fund.

Some of these supplemental appropriations, like $81,000 for the Dzil Yijiin court and $550,000 in general funds for all 110 chapters, were vetoed because these funding requests had unauthorized signatures by Council delegates and didn't go through the review of agency heads, a violation of the Appropriations Act.

In addition, the President also vetoed $609,729 from the Permanent Trust Fund, which would have funded six unclassified positions and the travel expenses, building space and vehicle rentals that come along with those positions.

He called the allocation "an irresponsible act."

In a press released issued by Shelly spokesman Erny Zah on Tuesday, the president said both the UUFB and Personnel Lapse depend on external conditions for funding, and require compliance with tribal law.

"Those conditions can fluctuate each year and change the amount of money we have in those accounts," Shelly said. "Therefore, we must exercise great caution when budgeting money from these sources and follow all applicable Navajo laws regarding spending of the Navajo People's money."

Some of the other major supplemental appropriations Shelly vetoed include $3 million for Navajos living in the Former Bennett Freeze and Navajo Partitioned Lands as well as $3 million that would have served as public employment funds for the tribe's 110 chapter governments.

One-and-a-half million for chapter improvements at Chilchiltah, N.M.; Chilchinbeto, Lupton, and Teec Nos Pos, Ariz.; and Oljato, Utah, was also vetoed.

During a special meeting of the Naa'bik'iyati' Committee on Monday, members of the committee occasionally drifted off topic on their debate of a "revenue-generating" $220 million bond financing legislation they tabled, and found themselves ranting about how Shelly would rather fund "elderly cowboys" and pay a grant to Northern Arizona University than approve money for the underdeveloped former Bennett Freeze area.

According to the memo, a grant in the amount of $150,000 will be awarded to NAU and $32,750 to the Diné Land Senior Rodeo Association, both from the Undesignated, Unreserved Balance Fund.

The $3 million Bennet Freeze allocation would have funded infrastructure projects like water lines and power lines and housing in an area that was in a "freeze" for about 40 years.

"The current land status of the freeze area is unclear," Shelly said in explaining his decision. "Until the land status is assured to be under Navajo jurisdiction, the funds will remain unspent."

In 1966, then-Commissioner of Indian Affairs Robert Bennett issued a freeze on development for the 1.6 million acres of tribal land jointly used by Navajos and Hopis until the two tribes came to an agreement on how to divide it.

U.S. President Barack Obama lifted the freeze in 2009, three years after former tribal president Joe Shirley Jr. and Hopi Tribal Chairman Ivan Sidney inked a pact to settle the land dispute in 2006.

The budget does fund projects like the $3 million decentralization project and $1.5 million for the rehabilitation of Administration Buildings 1 and 2, which was closed due to mold.

The $3 million in funding for the long-term decentralization project will bring bureaucratic services that are currently centralized in Window Rock to the local level.

The comprehensive budget also calls for all general-funded Navajo Nation employees to get a three-percent wage increase as well as enabling the Navajo Nation Area Agency on Aging to minimize layoffs. One significant aspect of the bill is a $2.9 million allocation budgeted for the Navajo Land Department to establish a registry of land records on the Navajo Nation.

"It is important to weigh and thoroughly consider all appropriations that utilize the Navajo people's money. Especially with the current environment in Washington, D.C. it is important for us to make these wise decisions," Shelly said.

In addition to the $28.1 million of the $587 million allocated to the Navajo Nation Permanent Trust Fund, $9.3 million will be invested in the Navajo Veterans Trust Fund; $4.7 million will be invested into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund; $2 million will go to the Water Rights Claim Fund; $1.5 million to the Historical Trust Asset Mismanagement Litigation Trust Fund; and $11 million to the Diné Higher Education Grant Fund.

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