Last week, the Navajo Tax Commission announced its support for proposed legislation that would increase the gross sales receipts tax from 3 to 4 percent. The extra tax revenue would be used to help fund judicial and public safety facilities, a press release from the Navajo Nation's Office of the Speaker states.
"We agree with it. We need some relief somewhere to get some funds for our facilities," said Sampson Cowboy, director of the division of public safety.
According to legislation No. 0448-06, the bill amends title 24 tax codes and would create a Judicial and Public Safety Facilities Fund, raise the tax rate and create new language regarding the distribution of the received tax money.
The distribution of money generated from retail sales tax would be split between the chapters and the facilities, said Mary Etsitty, director of the office of tax commissioner.
Instead of receiving 100 percent of the retail sales tax, the chapters would receive 75 percent of the tax revenue. Twenty-five percent would go toward judicial and public safety facilities, the legislation states.
Etsitty said because of the tax increase, she estimated the chapters would receive the same amount of funding, which in fiscal year 2005 amounted to about $4.8 million.
"It's not going to have a negative impact on the chapters," she said.
Though money would be generated for facility use, the legislation lacks planning on just exactly how that money would be spent, said Council Delegate LoRenzo Bates of Upper Fruitland.
"From the first day we collect taxes, we've got to have a plan in place," he said.
The legislation states how the money would be generated and where the money would go, but doesn't give any directives on how the money should be spent, other than on public safety and judicial facilities.
"That's what I haven't seen. I don't see how the money is going to be dispersed. I need to be able to tell my chapter your taxes are going up and you're going to get this service from the government," he said.
Bates said that a lack of planning about how the Nation would spend money has happened before.
When the Land Acquisition Fund was created, the intention of the fund was for the Navajo Nation to buy and acquire land, but since the law didn't have a plan outlining how the money would be spent, the fund goes unspent.
"We haven't bought anything. We haven't bought land," he said. "The Nation has a lot of money and doesn't use it for what it was intended for," he said.
The next steps for the tax increase proposal are reviews by a series of Navajo Nation committees, followed by possible action by the Navajo Nation Council this fall.
Erny Zah: firstname.lastname@example.org