Begaye approves amended budget for tribe

Noel Lyn Smith

FARMINGTON — After eliminating about $8.3 million in funding for tribal departments and programs in September, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye has restored the majority of the money by approving an amended budget for fiscal year 2017.

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's action restored about $7.4 million to chapter governments, grazing official stipends, senior citizen centers, government divisions and the judicial branch in a resolution the Navajo Nation Council had approved on Nov. 17.

The president also used his line-item veto authority to deny $296,406 for the Navajo Election Administration and $50,000 for the Department of Water Resources.

Begaye justified his reasons for eliminating those appropriations in a letter Saturday to Speaker LoRenzo Bates and the council. In the letter, he wrote the election administration's request was denied because the council approved $510,616 in supplemental funding for the entity in October.

The bill the council passed requested that amount to cover expenses related to the Nov. 8 general election.

"Considering the NEA has received its needed appropriation for the election, it would be fiscally irresponsible to provide excess funding while there are pending critical supplemental appropriations currently being requested," the president wrote.

Edison Wauneka, executive director for the election administration, raised concerns about Begaye’s action in a press release today from the Office of the Speaker. Wauneka said the president's decision leaves his office with no funds to conduct a referendum election in January.

The council approved the referendum, which will ask voters to weigh in on a transportation stimulus plan, on Oct. 27, and it became law after Begaye did not take action on the resolution, the release states.

The release also states tribal law mandates that the election administration conduct referendum elections within 90 days of approval.

The amount for the Department of Water Resources would have been used for an alluvium study on the Little Colorado River.

Begaye wrote that the water management branch informed his office that a memorandum of understanding was made with the Bureau of Indian Affairs for $100,000 in additional funding.

"This funding will be partly utilized for these contractual services for the study," the president wrote.

Since the $50,000 is no longer needed, the amount can be used for other critical needs, he wrote.

The president also took issue with a section of the council resolution that addressed the condition of appropriation, which is a sanction placed on a program.

Begaye wrote that he supports the purpose of such action, but he said his administration cannot back a proposal that withholds 10 percent of a program's operating budget as penalty for noncompliance.

"While we understand the need to have enforcement for the conditions of appropriations, it should be in a form to discipline the employees not carrying out their duties, but not harm the Navajo people that are being served," the president wrote.

In the release from the speaker's office, Bates called into question the president's decision.

Bates said the council remains concerned about the use of the line-item veto authority on such issues because it was established to address amounts listed in the annual budget and in supplemental funding requests.

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