Navajo Nation Council approves 2015 budget in three hours

A parade float for the Navajo Nation Council to enter into the Navajo Nation Fair parade on Sept. 6, 2014, is being built on the north side of the Council chamber in Window Rock, Ariz., on Sept. 3, 2014. A part of the float is a miniature Council chamber, which sits by the float. (Photo by Marley Shebala. Please give proper credit when re-using.)

A parade float for the Navajo Nation Council to enter into the Navajo Nation Fair parade on Sept. 6, 2014, is being built on the north side of the Council chamber in Window Rock, Ariz., on Sept. 3, 2014. A part of the float is a miniature Council chamber, which sits by the float. (Photo by Marley Shebala. Please give proper credit when re-using.)

I have been a journalist on the Navajo Nation for about 28 years and this is the first time that the Navajo Nation Council approved an annual operating budget for the Navajo Nation government in three hours and on the first day of their Budget Session on Sept. 2, 2014. The Council vote was 14 in favor, 2 opposed.

The two opposing votes were Delegates Katherine Benally and Leonard Tsosie.

And even through the Council approved the $199 million 2015 tribal government operating budget in three hours, they were also about three hours late in convening their 2015 Budget Session, which by Navajo law is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.

The tribal budget fiscal year ends on Sept. 30 and starts on Oct. 1.

Speaker Pro Temp LoRenzo Bates said that he was “kind of surprised” by how soon the Council voted on the 2015 budget.

But Bates said the 2015 budget went through the normal process, the standing committees kept to the budget process and when the budget came to Council, the Delegates realized that it had gone through the process and they were ready to vote on it.

He added that amendments made at the standing committee level were clearly identified in the 2015 Budget and different colors were used for each phase that the budget went through.

The original budget was white and then as the budget proceeded the process, it changed colors, which made it easier for the Council and everyone to follow along, Bates explained.

During the Council budget session, forms were provided to each of the Council delegates if he or she wanted to make budget amendments and, or Conditions of Appropriations to the budget, which also simplified the process instead of making it over complicated, he noted.

Bates said staff were also available.

“It’s not a one-way street,” Bates said. “The three branch chiefs worked on it and shook hands on it. We also all stayed in communication. I hope the president doesn’t take his red pen out.

“I want to say that my Budget and Finance Committee Vice Chairperson Delegate Jonathan Nez did really good for his first time,” Bates said.

Bates is the B&F Committee Chairperson but when the Council made his Speaker Pro Temp, Nez took over the helm of the B&F Committee, which is responsible for developing and recommending the annual budget to the Council.

The Council’s appointment of Bates came after the Council placed Speaker Johnny Naize on administrative leave with pay for failing to maintain his “good standing” as speaker after the Navajo Nation Special Prosecutor filed 11 criminal charges of bribery and one criminal count of conspiracy to commit bribery against him.

And while I was away from the Council Budget Session attending the press conferences of tribal presidential candidates Chris Deschene and Joe Shirley Jr., the Council changed its mind about zeroing out the budgets of the Navajo Nation Division of Economic Development’s Regional Business Development Offices and putting those dollars under the NDED’s Project Development Offices.

I was at the Navajo Nation Legislative Branch today, Sept. 3, and asked if the 2015 Budget that the Council approved had been sent over to President Ben Shelly for his signature or veto or line-item vetoes. I was informed that the Navajo Nation Office of Management and Budgets was still working on making the six changes or amendments to the 2015 Budget that the Council also approved.

Once the 2015 Budget gets to Shelly, he has ten days to take action on it. If there is no action, it’s automatically approved.

I obtained ELECTRONIC COPIES of the Council’s 2015 agenda, Council attendance sheet, Council voting tallies on the six amendments and final vote, and the six amendments. But since the Council approved 2015 Budget was not finalized, I only have an ELECTRONIC COPY of the 2015 Budget before Council approved it with six amendments. But it still provides a whole lot of insight into the tribal government’s spending.

And while I was at the legislative offices, I noticed that a parade float was being constructed on the north side of the Council chamber. Legislative Communications Director Jared Touchin said that the float was the Council’s entry into the Navajo Nation Fair parade on Sept. 6, 2014. Touchin said that Speaker Pro Temp LoRenzo Bates would be walking along side the float with other Council delegates and staff and handing out rulers, small coin/cash bags and other items. No candy.

I jokingly asked if they might hand out documents. Touchin laughed.

He said that the Council has a tent near Gorman Hall on the tribal fairgrounds in Window Rock, where staff and perhaps Council delegates will be hosting a variety of activities for Kids’ Day, which is tomorrow, Sept. 4, 2014. The Council will also be handing out tee shirts for the kids.

I love Kids Day!

Bates said that another part of the Council float entry, will be a flat-bed with a basketball hoop. If someone puts a basketball through the hoop, he or she will get a prize, he said.

PRESS RELEASE – Navajo Nation Council approves the Navajo Nation FY2015 Comprehensive Budget

WINDOW ROCK – The Navajo Nation Council, on Tuesday approved Legislation No. 0232-14, the Navajo Nation FY2015 Comprehensive Budget along with six amendments.

Previous Council Budget Sessions were generally conducted over a span of four days, however in an unprecedented instance, the entire comprehensive budget was passed on the first day with few amendments, and no further discussion regarding the allocation of the Nation’s funds.

Council Delegate Jonathan Nez (Shonto, Navajo Mountain, Oljato, Ts’ah Bii Kin), the legislation sponsor, said he attributed the expeditious passing of the Nation’s budget to the leadership of the Council members.

“The experience of this Council guided budget discussions at the standing committee level with each program and all through the budget development process. We passed the budget in one day because of our diligence from the very outset. I commend each member of the Council for their hard work on arriving at a sensible and progress budget,” said Delegate Nez, following the meeting.

Nez also said that the budget process was streamlined in an efficient manner due to the diligence in working with the Navajo Nation Office of Management and Budget, the Navajo Nation Office of the Controller, legislative staff, and all divisions and departments who submitted their budgets in a timely manner.

Council Delegate Danny Simpson (Becenti, Crownpoint, Huerfano, Lake Valley, Nageezi, Nahodishgish, Tse’ii’ahi, Whiterock) proposed an amendment to overturn a previous provision by the Naabik’iyátí’ Committee, which eliminated the entire funding of the Navajo Nation Regional Business Development Offices, and was transferred to Project Development, both under the Navajo Nation Division of Economic Development.

Delegate Simpson’s amendment passed with a vote of 12-1.

Speaking in support of reinstating the RBDO’s funding, Council Delegate Katherine Benally (Chilchinbeto, Dennehotso, Kayenta) said that in conjunction with Delegate Simpson’s amendment, she proposed a Condition of Appropriation on the RBDO’s.

“This COA would allow the RBDO’s to coordinate with the Navajo Division of Economic Development to revisit the plan of operation by the end of the second quarter of FY2015, but the services will be moved to each [regional agency of the Navajo Nation],” said Delegate Benally.

Delegate Benally said that reinstating the funding for the RDBO’s would allow potential Navajo businesses to begin their entrepreneurial development at their local agencies in hopes of creating a plan that would simplify the process in starting a business on the Navajo Nation.

Delegate Benally’s amendment to include the additional COA passed with a vote of 13-0.

Another key amendment proposed by Council Delegate Alton Joe Shepherd (Jeddito, Cornfields, Ganado, Kin Dah Lichii, Steamboat), is to transfer any remaining balances from completed Capital Improvement Projects to a new business unit, which would be the responsibility of the Resources and Development Committee to reallocate the funds to other CIP projects that need additional funding.

“These projects that go through the process can take so long to get done, and that is one of the reasons for holdups. We are talking about moving things along, and reallocating leftover funding to existing CIP projects so they can be completed quickly,” said Delegate Shepherd.

The amendment passed with a vote of 14-1.

Other amendments made to the FY2015 budget include allocating $500,000 to the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources for equipment for a water irrigation system, $100,000 to create the Navajo Nation Judicial Conduct Commission, and funding for Cornfields Chapter to aid in renovation, asbestos and mold abatement.

Council members voted 14-2 to pass Legislation No. 0232-14.

The bill now goes to President Shelly, who will have ten days to consider the FY2015 Comprehensive Budget.

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