Shiprock Chapter opposes using trust fund principal for transportation stimulus plan

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Shiprock Chapter

FARMINGTON — One chapter in the Northern Agency passed a resolution to oppose using the principal of the Permanent Trust Fund to improve roads throughout the reservation.

Shiprock Chapter members on Sunday voted 65-0 in opposition to the proposal to use $216 million from the principal due to concerns the amount goes against the intent of the Permanent Trust Fund.

The Navajo Nation Council approved the referendum in October 2016 based on the tribe's need for road maintenance and improvement.

Chapter president Duane "Chili" Yazzie said today the resolution was requested by some chapter members who had concerns about the Oct. 24 referendum.

Voters will decide whether to use $216 million from the principal to fund transportation projects for six years on the Navajo Nation.

Yazzie said during the regular chapter meeting, members had concerns and questions about the stimulus plan.

"On such a major issue, such as this, you'd expect there'd be public hearings and information shared with the people but there was criticism that wasn't done," Yazzie said.

Others spoke about keeping the intent of the Permanent Trust Fund intact and noted if such a withdraw is allowed, then another one could happen again, he said.

"It'll set a precedent to tap into the Permanent Trust Fund principal," Yazzie said.

Carl Slater, spokesman for the Navajo Division of Transportation, said information sessions were held in several chapters and information was shared on regional radio stations.

The Permanent Trust Fund was established in 1985 by a tribal council resolution and with the initial investment of approximately $26 million, which was received as part of an award for a taxation lawsuit.

The principal balance has grown to approximately $3 billion, according to the chapter resolution.

Part of the transportation stimulus plan includes 20 miles of dirt road improvements annually in each of the 24 regions represented on the tribal council.

It also includes bridge and gravel development in areas approved by NDOT.

Delegate Dwight Witherspoon asked voters to support the referendum in comments he made during the Navajo Nation Council's fall session in Window Rock, Ariz.

Witherspoon, a cosponsor for the bill that set the referendum, said there are four benefits to passing the stimulus, including job creation and generating $974,839 in taxes for the tribe's general fund over the six years.

"It will reduce the transportation costs to our schools, public safety, emergency management services and, of course, to our families on the wear and tear and damage to our buses and to our vehicles," Witherspoon said.

"We all know our roads need improvement. We all know we need more jobs. We know that we need to generate more income to meet the many needs of the nation, he said.

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