SANTA FE, N.M. - Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson discussed the state's capital outlay funding for New Mexico tribal infrastructure projects, saving several Navajo-specific projects from the budget chopping block, the Nation's proposal on Class II gaming, and the Dec. 15 Navajo government reform election during a 20-minute meeting in the governor's office last Friday.
President Shirley traveled to Santa Fe to participate in the 2010 Legislative Session's American Indian Day activities, sponsored by the Department of Indian Affairs.
The first subject Gov. Richardson inquired about was the Dec. 15 initiative election, and how President Shirley fared politically.
President Shirley explained that the people supported both initiatives, adding "We still have our challenges but ultimately the will of the people will prevail."
President Shirley expressed his appreciation to Gov. Richardson for his support of 46 Navajo projects that were slated for cuts but which were saved.
Arbin Mitchell, director of the Navajo Division of Community Development, told Gov. Richardson that grant agreements had been issued for 140 projects worth $14 million and 14 smaller project worth some $2 million.
"A lot of those Navajo projects were mine," the Governor said, noting the Cutter Lateral water project in particular. "As one of my last acts, I'd like to see five percent go to the tribal infrastructure fund."
He said he supports H.B. 162, sponsored by House Speaker Ben Lujan, which will create a permanent source of funding for the tribal infrastructure fund.
He said despite the state's current financial difficulties, his administration was working to make sure important projects continue.
Gov. Richardson told President Shirley he had received his letter regarding the Nation's desire to begin Class II gaming and said that could hurt the state's compacts with its other gaming tribes and open the door for non-Native gaming in New Mexico.
"I want us to work together," he told the President.
"That's why I appreciate you, Governor, because you want collaboration," President Shirley said.
The President and Governor agreed to meet again in a few weeks.