Begaye vetoes seniors, chapters and grazing officials out of Nation's 2017 budget

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — On Sept. 28, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye used his authority to veto funding for several programs that were approved in the 2017 budget Sept. 8 by the Navajo Nation Council.

Begaye outlined a total of 17 line-item vetoes that included vetoes of $1.4 million for the Navajo Area Agency on Aging (NAAA) program, $1 million for each of the 110 chapters, $847,000 for grazing officials and money for 24 legislative district assistant positions.

Begaye said the Begaye-Nez administration had worked tirelessly on ensuring budgets were created and driven by strategy.

“The budget submitted to council for consideration was built on strategic planning, not on pet projects, political popularity or re-election considerations,” Begaye said.

Vice President Jonathan Nez said that coming together to figure out the needs of the Navajo people is important because the Nation faces a potential $20 million budget deficit that was shored up this year by the Permanent Trust Fund interest.

“The one-time solution to the budget shortfall will not be available next year when the projected deficit is predicted to be $22 million or more,” Nez said. “We need to be strategic in our budgeting more than ever before. This is the change for restructuring and prioritizing how we deliver services to the Navajo people.”

Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates said the Navajo Area Agency on Aging program money would have restored working hours for its employees to 80 hours per pay period and would have provided more direct services to Navajo senior citizens. In August, NAAA employees came before the Council’s Naabik’iyátí’ Committee and made an emotional plea for additional funding to help senior citizen centers provide services such as meals for elderly Navajo people. The employees said because of lack of funding, their work hours were reduced, which limited the services provided to senior citizens.

“President Begaye has continuously campaigned on the notion that he supports Navajo elders, however, his action to veto funding for senior citizens does not reflect his words,” Bates said. “As a result of the president’s line-item veto, our senior centers will continue to have funding shortfalls and it will continue to impact services for our elderly people.”

Begaye said his decision to use the veto stemmed from the responsibility to ensure all budget actions are in compliance with the Appropriations Act.

“It is important to understand that the Navajo Area Agency on Aging, grazing officials and chapters received their operating budget to deliver services,” he said. “What was line item vetoed was supplemental funding from a prohibited account.”

The president said the supplemental funding came from the personnel lapse fund, which was not established for that purpose.

“We have to do things right,” Begaye said. “The money was taken from a fund that was for retirees from the tribal work force. This is the (Navajo) people’s money. We’re making sure that we’re doing things right.”

The $1 million for each of the 110 chapters was intended to help with funding shortfalls to provide services at the local level. The money for grazing officials was to address insufficient funding in previous years.

“Each year the budget does not provide enough funding for grazing officials and the council recognized that need and approved additional funding, but, once again, President Begaye was not supportive of the grazing officials,” Bates said.

Bates also pointed out that council members, including the Law and Order Committee, have met with the acting chief justice to discuss needs for the judicial branch, which they say has been understaffed, resulting in long working hours for employees to keep up with the workload and duties.

“There is no doubt that the judicial branch is in great need of additional funds to provide efficient services for our communities and the Law and Order Committee recognized that and pushed for council’s approval of an additional $752,000 in their budget,” Bates said in response to the president’s veto of money for the judicial branch.

Bates also expressed disappointment with Begaye’s veto of all funding for 24 legislative district assistant positions under the legislative branch saying that the assistants play a vital role in communities by working with chapters and serving as a bridge to the central government.

“Many of the legislative district assistants are young professionals who have moved home to the Navajo Nation to help their people and their communities and many are well-educated and provide valuable services to our communities, so it is very disappointing that President Begaye is not supportive,” Bates said.

Begaye said the administration asked the council to approve the executive branch budget because it was based on strategy but the council funded unnecessary programs, moved things around and undermined the strategic planning that went into the development of the budget for the executive branch.

“Therefore, I used the line-item veto authority to protect those strategies,” Begaye said. “We can’t expect to carry out our priorities effectively without a budget that compliments those priorities.”

Bates noted that the budget for the Office of the President and Vice President has more than doubled since Begaye took office in May 2015.

“When you compare the funding that previous presidents have received, the current administration is receiving more than double the funding,” Bates said. “Meanwhile President Begaye has taken advantage of his authority to cut funding for our senior citizens, the youth and many others.”

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