Wednesday, March 22, 2023

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Fiscal 2023 budget prioritizes public safety, veterans, wage increases


President Jonathan Nez signed the tribe’s comprehensive budget into law last week through Resolution CS-42-22, which includes the government’s operating budget of $2.5 billion for the three branches.

This comes after the Council unanimously approved the comprehensive budget in Legislation 0152-22 in a Sept. 8 budget session, with a vote of 22-0.

“The budget reflects the peoples’ priorities by increasing funding for public safety, senior centers, ranchers, the Office of the Prosecutor, and our Diné veterans,” said Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty. “Working together, leadership can continue to prioritize funding shortfalls and increase employee salaries who provide direct services to our people.”

With Nez’s signing of the budget resolution, the new fiscal 2023 budget will take effect on Oct. 1.

Speaker Seth Damon said he appreciated the cooperation between the three branches in working together on the comprehensive budget.

“The budget for the upcoming fiscal year supports many critical services and needs for the Navajo people and our communities and builds on the progress being made,” Nez said. “It also makes additional investments in public safety, services for elders, and establishing an energy office that can support more renewable energy initiatives to support energy needs and fight climate change.”

Pay increases

Navajo Nation employees were also allocated a 5% wage increase in the budget to help make up for rising costs due to inflation in the past two years.

“I thank the Navajo Nation Council for supporting our Nation’s employees with the general wage adjustment to help offset cost-of-living expenses that impact everyone across the country,” Nez said.

Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton told the Navajo Times she is grateful the 5% general wage adjustment was approved by Council and was not vetoed by the president.

“Our Navajo Nation employees need an overall salary increase in order to be competitive with surrounding government employers,” she said.

“As a Nation, we need to start hiring qualified individuals and pay them what they would make off the Nation,” she said. “We are moving in that direction but at a snail’s pace!”

Budget process

In August, the Budget and Finance Committee spent weeks working with Council’s oversight committees to approve proposed division, department, and program budgets to be included in the comprehensive budget.

“I want to thank the Office of Legislative Services for adhering to timelines and communicating with all of our executive directors of the Navajo Nation to submit complete budgets and speak on their budget needs,” Damon said.

The Office of Management and Budget compiled all budget summary reports and modified them to reflect added amendments after each hearing session.

Then, Leg. 0152-22, sponsored by B&F Chair Jamie Henio, was prepared for consideration by the Council.

According to the speaker’s office, items in the approved budget include:

Overall FY2023 Operating Budget – $2,524,344,626:

Legislative Branch – $18,589,526

Judicial Branch – $30,609,111

Executive Branch – $2,436,211,447

Fixed Costs – $38,934,542

Statutory Allocations for Special Funds – $54,885,000

Personnel Lapse Account – $9,642,806

Permanent Fund – $27,911,000

Carryovers from 2022 – $16,071,269

Unreserved, Undesignated Fund Balance – $20,000,000

Public safety

Nez said that as the Navajo Division of Transportation continues to repair roads due to recent heavy rainfall, the new budget also delivers more funding to fix many of the damaged earthen

dams and windmills in communities across the Nation.

It also provides an additional $500,000 for the Proactive Criminal Enforcement Program, including K-9 units, the Drug Enforcement Unit, and commissioned police personnel who conduct field operations to stop drug use/sales, bootlegging activities, and violent crimes.

Last year, Nez authorized an additional $500,000 to the Navajo Police Department to support law enforcement efforts, which he said have led to multiple seizures of large quantities of drugs, alcohol, and illegal firearms and the arrests of violent offenders.

‘No veterans’ shortfall’

Making good on his promise made during the State of the Navajo Nation address in July, Nez said an additional $2.7 million in the budget was prioritized by himself and the Council to cover an anticipated shortfall for benefits and services for Navajo veterans.

“We made a commitment to our Navajo veterans, and we have followed through on that commitment with the support of the Council,” Nez said. “There will be no funding shortfall for veterans’ services and benefits in the upcoming fiscal year.”

Funding local governments

The budget includes a new fixed cost appropriation for chapter official stipends for the stability of chapter governments.

“The approved carryover of savings will fund our programs that provide direct services to our citizens; we are fortunate to have these funds available and must utilize these dollars for the benefit of the Navajo People,” Nez said.

“We are aware that the carryover amounts are not exact and will not be finalized until the financial closeout later this calendar year,” he added. “Nonetheless, we are grateful for the additional funds to support our program operations.”

However, Charles-Newton said the Nation needs to know which chapters will be requesting carryovers and for what amounts.

“In terms of chapters getting money, I am concerned,” she said. “This stems from hearing from our people who are always being told, ‘no money.’”

She said delegates also learned that some chapters are not being audited, yet Council continues to give them funding each year.

“I am very concerned with this, and in my opinion, if you are a Chapter that tells people there is no money, you should not be asking for a carryover!” she said.

Reserve funds

The budget resolution also sets aside $20 million for fiscal 2023 in the Unreserved, Undesignated Fund Balance to help address future unmet needs.

“That’s the amount of money that exceeds the projected revenues to cover our annual fiscal year budget,” Delegate Carl Slater said.

Nez said the Nation is fortunate to have adequate permanent funds for replenishing the UUFB and helping fund additional needs in Navajo communities.

During a caucus held by the Council, the Office of Legislative Counsel recommended pausing approximately $32 million in amendments from delegates to give Nez the full 10 days to view and approve or veto the legislation before the start of fiscal 2023 on Oct. 1.

“We decided we will come back together and talk about how we want to deal with the remaining funding in the UUFB after the budget’s signed,” Slater said.

On Sept. 24, Nez approved the budget resolution in its entirety except for four line-item vetoes applied to four conditions and appropriations that did not meet the statutory requirements to be placed on the appropriation or expenditure list, he said.

“As we move forward in the new fiscal year, we extend our appreciation to all of the hardworking Navajo Nation employees who labored many days, weeks, and months to develop the comprehensive budget,” Vice President Lizer said. “We also thank each of the divisions, programs, OMB, Office of the Controller, DOJ, oversight committees, and the 24th Navajo Nation Council for working together and getting this budget across the finish line for the Navajo people.”


About The Author

Rima Krisst

Reporter and photojournalist Rima Krisst reported for the Navajo Times from July 2018 to October 2022. She covered Arts and Culture and Government Affairs beats.Before joining the editorial team at the Times, Krisst worked in various capacities in the areas of communications, public relations, marketing and Indian Affairs policy on behalf of the Tribes, Nations and Pueblos of New Mexico. Among her posts, she served as Director of PR and Communications for the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department under Governor Bill Richardson, Healthcare Outreach and Education Manager for the Eight Northern Pueblos, Tribal Tourism Liaison for the City of Santa Fe, and Marketing Projects Coordinator for Santa Fe Indian Market. As a writer and photographer, she has also worked independently as a contractor on many special projects, and her work has been published in magazines. Krisst earned her B.S. in Business Administration/Finance from the University of Connecticut.


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