FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Council approved placing a referendum on the November ballot, asking voters whether to increase the yearly earnings for the tribal president and vice president.

Delegates voted 17-3 in favor on Sept. 7 and the resolution was submitted to the Office of the President and Vice President later that day, according to the Office of the Speaker.

The annual salary for the president is $55,000, and the vice president earns $45,000 each year. Under the proposal, voters would determine to raise the salaries up to $102,000 annually for the president and as high as $87,000 for the vice president.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye has 10 calendar days to sign or veto the resolution, which includes proposed language for the ballot.

In a Sept. 7 memorandum to Begaye, Speaker LoRenzo Bates requested the president's immediate attention to consider the resolution.

"In accordance with the Navajo Nation election code and procedures for referendum measures, this particular referendum is bound by a strict timeline to allow the referendum question to be placed on the ballot for the upcoming general election on Nov. 6," Bates wrote.

He added the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors must approve the referendum language, which is contingent on Begaye's consideration and approval of the council resolution.

"I have been informed that in order to meet the deadlines to have this measure placed on the ballot for the general election, the referendum must have your approval no later than Sept. 12," Bates wrote.

The election board has a regular meeting scheduled for Thursday in Window Rock, Arizona, according to the Navajo Election Administration.

Begaye said in a statement Monday that any proposed salary increase should include everyone, including council delegates, and such action has not been a concern for him.

He wrote that serving as president was not about money, but about serving the Navajo people, and he hopes the next administration does not base its passion for helping the tribe on yearly earnings.

"It's about the heart and compassion that you have for the people. I think the council's salary needs to be considered and addressed. However, salary shouldn't dictate productivity or what you do to address the nation's needs. For me, I don't have a desire to see an increase, I think it's about accountability," Begaye said.

In July, the Commission on Navajo Government Development recommended sending the referendum to voters after research showed the salaries have not been adjusted since both positions were created in 1989.

The referendum proposes the voter, if supporting the measure, determine the adjusted salaries from three options listed on the ballot.

The first option would set the salaries at $85,000 for the president and $70,000 for the vice president.

Option two would provide annual earnings of $95,000 to the president and $80,000 to the vice president.

The third option proposes $102,000 for the president and $87,000 for the vice president.

The referendum would need majority votes in favor to pass, the council resolution states.

If it passes, the amount receiving the highest number of votes would be the one approved.

A separate piece of legislation would have created a second referendum for voters on the November ballot.

That proposal sought to restructure chapter governments, but the legislation was withdrawn by Delegate Leonard Tsosie, the bill's sponsor, on Sept. 7.

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

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