Begaye line-item vetoes funds, signs budget

Noel Lyn Smith

FARMINGTON – Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye has signed a $651.4 million budget for the tribe to operate under during fiscal year 2017.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye used his line-item veto authority to eliminate approximately $8.3 million in appropriations from the tribe's fiscal year 2017 budget.

Begaye signed the comprehensive budget Tuesday and used his line-item veto authority to eliminate approximately $8.3 million in appropriations.

Begaye vetoed approximately $1.4 million in appropriations for the Navajo Area Agency on Aging, including $158,533 for the agency's office in Shiprock. The Navajo Nation Council had approved the $1.4 million in supplemental funding for the NAAA during the budget session earlier this month.

The Shiprock agency operates 15 senior citizen centers in the Northern Agency, and each location provides services, programs and meals for older Navajos.

The president's action eliminated $145,625 in personal expenses, $2,000 for supplies, $2,000 for lease and retail, and $8,908 for special transactions.

An employee at the Shiprock office said today the additional funding for personal expenses would have been used to restore a 40-hour work week schedule for senior citizen center managers, cooks and drivers.

The additional funding would have helped the Shiprock office fulfill a directive by the council to hold training courses for seniors and employees about sexual harassment, elder abuse, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease and case management, the employee said.

Begaye also line-item vetoed a total of $350,000 for the Department of Criminal Investigation and $163,170 for the Division of Community Development.

The amount for criminal investigations would have been divided into $50,000 for overtime pay, $50,000 for operating supplies and $250,000 to hire a coroner consultant who would only investigate major crimes.

This allocation was part of $840,000 the council approved during the budget session, and a portion was approved to implement an Amber Alert system, according to a Sept. 10 press release from the Office of the Speaker.

Division of Public Safety Director Jesse Delmar said today the president's veto did not affect funding for the Amber Alert system.

"Amber Alert is ongoing. We're going forward," Delmar said adding the tribe has identified a regional system to use for sending alerts.

The Division of Community Development would have used $102,087 for three rural addressing technicians and $61,083 for operating expenses.

Other large amounts vetoed by Begaye were $847,707 for district grazing officials under the Division of Natural Resources and approximately $1.7 million for legislative district assistants under the legislative branch.

In a memorandum Begaye sent Tuesday to Speaker LoRenzo Bates and council delegates, the president continued to advocate for strategic development of the tribal budget.

"We have stated since day one of our administration that in order for our government to be effective and be able to carry out our priorities we must develop a budget that is strategic," Begaye wrote.

He added his administration continues to maintain a position that follows those priorities and preserves the budget submitted by the executive branch.

The president ended his memorandum with a request to meet with the council in order to revisit the priorities of the tribe.

Bates responded to the president's actions in a Wednesday press release in which he expressed disappointment over the vetoes and noted the president's office budget had increased since May 2015.

"When you compare the funding that previous presidents have received, the current administration is receiving more (than) double the funding, meanwhile President Begaye has taken advantage of his authority to cut funding for our senior citizens, the youth and many others," Bates said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-546-4636.