Nation votes no to $216 million stimulus plan

Photo/Coconino County Public Works

Photo/Coconino County Public Works

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — The Navajo Nation voted no on the Transportation Stimulus Plan in a special election Oct. 24.

The Navajo Nation Transportation Stimulus Plan would have used $216 million of the principle from the Permanent Trust Fund over six years to improve some dirt routes on the Navajo Nation.

Unofficial results released Oct. 25 show the measure did not pass — out of the 19,263 votes cast, the plan received 14,983 no votes and 4,277 yes votes. There are a total of 134,114 registered voters across the Navajo Nation.

The Western Navajo Agency cast 2,750 votes with 1,845 no votes and 916 yes votes. Tsídii To’li was the only chapter in the Western Agency to have more yes votes for the stimulus plan — the majority vote in all other chapters was no.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez thanked the Nation in a press release for protecting the future of the Navajo Nation by voting no on the Transportation Stimulus Plan.

“We are building a Nation that will last for millennia,” Begaye and Nez said. “The security of our future is provided by the Permanent Trust Fund. Your vote has protected the future of our great Nation in protecting money that is meant for our children, grandchildren and for those yet to be born.”

Begaye and Nez said the PTF is not a set-aside for tomorrow and that it never has been, and that the money provided by the fund provides financial stability to the Nation. They said that taking $212 million from the principal would in essence be taking money from the interest.

“That interest from the PTF is funding an essential part of the five-year plan to build needed waterlines for homes and businesses,” they said.

Begaye and Nez also emphasized that spending the principle of the fund would have negatively affected the Nation’s credit rating, minimized its ability to leverage financial capital to fund initiatives and conversely and negatively affected interest rates for loans.

Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates said the council respects the outcome of the referendum and the votes of the Navajo people.

“It is now time for the Nation’s leadership to regroup and move forward together and continue putting forth initiatives that strengthen our Nation’s infrastructure,” Bates said. “We need leadership that is willing to propose ideas and that’s what this council did and I am thankful for that.”

Begaye and Nez also said the Nation receives over $50 million a year to address road conditions. The Navajo Division of Transportation created a plan for infrastructure and there is already a transportation plan that is ready and does not use money from the PTF.

“We will move forward with this plan now that the public has made a decision,” they said.

But Bates said the Navajo Division of Transportation has reported the Nation receives $54 million annually from the Federal Highway Administration and an additional $6 million from the Nation’s fuel excise tax. Bates said the division estimates that only $37 million of the $54 million is used for actual construction or maintenance of roads after pre-construction obligations are met.

Bates said the council, since taking office in January 2015, has taken on the challenge of improving the Nation’s infrastructure by approving $180 million from the Síhasin Fund for bulk water infrastructure projects that are now under construction and an additional $150 million from the interest earned from the PTF principal for infrastructure and economic development projects.

“As leaders of our Nation, the Begaye-Nez administration and the council need to come together and work together on large scale proposals,” Bates said. “My invitation to the president to sit down, have a cup of coffee and talk remains open.”

Begaye and Nez said they see a future where the Nation no longer will need to depend on the federal government for money. To accomplish that goal, the Nation is taking action to change the economy of the Navajo Nation through the Naat’áanii Development Corporation.

“There is a paradigm shift in the way we think about money and investments and business,” Begaye said. “As part of this shift in thinking, we must embrace change and explore new avenues to generate revenue that will be used not only to address roads, but electricity, water and housing.”

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