Tribal official seeks legal opinions for budget

Noel Lyn Smith

FARMINGTON — After the speaker of the Navajo Nation Council called into question the legitimacy of the tribe's newly adopted budget, the tribe's controller says he is seeking legal guidance to resolve the issue.

Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates is calling into question the legitimacy of the tribe's new budget, claiming that certain appropriations were wrongly vetoed by President Russell Begaye.

In a press release issued today by the Office of the Speaker, Controller Jim Parris told members of the Budget and Finance Committee this week he had requested legal opinions about the budget from Chief Legislative Counsel Levon Henry and Attorney General Ethel Branch.

Parris sought the opinions after concerns surrounding the legitimacy of the budget were voiced by Speaker LoRenzo Bates, who questioned the line-item vetoes issued by President Russell Begaye on Sept. 27.

Begaye signed a $651.4 million budget after he authorized 17 line-item vetoes that would have funded programs for economic development, public safety, natural resources, the judicial branch and the legislative branch.

Bates raised the issue about the budget in letters he sent Monday to Begaye, Parris and Dominic Beyal, the executive director of the Office of Management and Budget.

The speaker wrote in both letters it was "well known" Begaye was in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 27, and tribal law requires presidential veto action take place within the territorial jurisdiction of the Navajo Nation.

The president's office responded in a press release Monday that stated Begaye issued the line-item vetoes within the Navajo Nation on Sept. 24 but the budget was dated Sept. 27 because that was the day of delivery to the speaker's office.

The press release further states the speaker was incorrect in stating the president's action occurred outside tribal boundaries.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye has approved the tribe's amended budget for fiscal year 2017, but he vetoed more than $300,000 in requested appropriations.

Begaye said in the release the council is "continuing to negate the will of the people" since the people granted the line-item veto authority to the president.

In the letter to Parris and Beyal, Bates instructs the controller's office to make arrangements to implement the fiscal year 2017 budget the council passed on Sept. 21.

In a telephone interview late today, Parris said he has reviewed Henry's legal opinion regarding the matter and is waiting for legal clarification from Branch.

Parris added he thinks Branch's response will be issued Friday, and the figures issued in the fiscal year 2017 budget signed by the president were entered into the tribe's financial management system.

The tribe's 2017 fiscal year started on Oct. 1.

In today's speaker's office press release, it explains that during the Budget and Finance Committee meeting, Delegate Seth Damon, who serves as committee chairman, asked Beyal about the process to close the fiscal year 2016 budget.

Beyal said the closing would be completed in three weeks, and the fiscal year 2017 budget entered into the financial management system was the one approved by President Begaye.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.