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Guest Column | Politics at its worst

By Jarvis Williams

This last weekend was the final weekend that Council-approved legislation was sent to President Nez for his decision.

We’ll know whether he agreed with Council for revenue-generating projects or spat over the Navajo people for losing the election and vetoed the projects.

If it is the latter, this would be politics at its worst. An outgoing president that lost reelection and had a chance to finish on a solid note but decided otherwise. Then deprived the Navajo people of valuable projects and revenue. Of course, he’ll cite his reasons for the veto or line-item veto, but I think we all know what message he will send.

Unfortunately, we must endure that but do not despair as we have a new Council and a new president that took the helm this week.

The reality is that another member of the Council can draft up the legislation and reintroduce it. We must understand that every project will provide income for a community or someone from that community. We all hope most of the money will go to Navajo employees or a Navajo business that will spend most of the funds on Navajo.

Most often, we see the majority of funds being spent on expensive designs that, unfortunately, lead to overbuilding and insufficient money to pay for operations and maintenance. A good example is one of the facilities in Dilcon. The Navajo Nation Council discussed this at a recent meeting, citing that there were possible repayments to be made to the BIA because of overbuilding.

No doubt the feds will be taking a closer look at other projected facilities to be built on the Nation. The scrutiny may be enhanced with a Republican Congress at the helm.

Finally, Congress has selected a speaker, and it will return to the people’s business. One of the objectives of the new Congress is to limit government spending and develop a 10-year plan to reduce the debt.

That means the Nation, as well as other tribes, will look forward to attempts at a possible reduction in federal dollars going to tribes over the next four years.

In last week’s column, I mentioned that in 2021, the Nation’s expenses were $1.197 billion, which is a lot of money. The information was from the 2021 Navajo Nation Audit, a lot of information to sort through. From that, I wanted to highlight the Permanent Trust Fund since there was plenty of chatter from recent Council special sessions. Where does that sit?

Currently, the PTF has a non-spendable fund balance of $3.2 billion. That’s a billion. There was a lot of online discussion about the Council dipping into the principal, which would be very difficult since a stipulation would be very hard to accomplish.

The Council would have to approve a referendum requiring the approval of two-thirds of registered Navajo voters, which makes it very unlikely that it would happen.

Right now, there is no need to do that. The Navajo government is doing well with its investments and spending the interest. The Council and Nez approved a five-year expenditure plan (CAP-30-21) to spend the “derived income.” The first year of expenditure was completed.

This year, the Council approved $68 million, which $40 million will be transferred to the General Fund to help with operating expenses. The remaining $28 million will help “fund other needs as deemed necessary.”

This expenditure plan was drafted to help meet the needs of the Navajo government following the loss of royalty revenue from the closure of NGS.

This will continue through 2027, and discussions about another five-year expenditure plan will surface. You might wonder if that is enough or if we can do more? The expenditure plan was created to fill a void from lost revenue. What happens if Navajo Mine and Four Corners Power Plant shut down earlier than expected?

Will the Permanent Trust Fund step in again and save the Navajo Nation? Perhaps we should ask what our leadership has in store regarding revenue generation for the next four years.

With inflation lingering, an increasing population, no real estate value for land ownership, a shortage of jobs, a continuous leakage of Navajo dollars to border towns, and a Congress that may make it more challenging to expend funds to tribes, Navajo leadership need to begin making strides toward projects that will bring in revenue.

I think Council had that in mind when it passed the recent legislation. So, it is a bit concerning to see legislation vetoed by President Nez when there was a real movement toward increasing the revenue to the Navajo Nation.

I will continue to bring up revenue generation because we have not seen a major action since we approved Navajo Gaming in 2006. But that enterprise took a major hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the recovery is still in progress.

Revenue is important because the Nation feeds a lot of money into social programs. Chapter budgets allocate 75-80% of their budget for social needs, and most don’t bring in any revenue to supplement the need. They give that responsibility to the central government.

In short, the Navajo government uses our savings to pay the bills, but that can only last for so long. Our grandpa, the federal government, is in heavy debt and is borrowing because he has been spending more than he is bringing in. Our sister, the state of Arizona, has not been willing to help as much as we would like, and it is busy looking for extra water for its booming economy.

Looking forward, we need to put more pressure on our elected leaders to think with revenue in mind as they do their jobs because the need for more money will only increase.


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