Navajo president vetoes measure to increase trust fund revenues

Window Rock, Arizona (AP) 2-08

Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. vetoed a measure that would have increased the amount of money going into a tribal trust fund.

The Tribal Council voted early Febuary to deposit 18 percent of tribal revenue into the Permanent Fund – a more than $1 billion account developed in 1985 to replenish lost revenues from coal, timber, oil and gas – starting in fiscal year 2009.

Currently, 12 percent of tribal revenues are placed in the fund.

In his veto message to council Speaker Lawrence Morgan, Shirley said the 6 percent increase would have meant a nearly $12 million reduction in net revenues for the tribe and would limit the executive branch’s ability to provide services to Navajo people.

“A 6 percent set-aside would greatly impact government operations, affect our ability to maintain direct services and could result in possible layoffs,” Shirley said.

The sponsor of the legislation, Delegate LoRenzo Bates, said he’s “really pissed,” about the veto but would not pursue an override in the council.

Bates said he believed that Shirley supported the legislation. If the tribe’s finances changed to a point where depositing 18 percent wasn’t feasible, Bates said the council “would have most definitely rescinded the legislation to let it go back to 12.”

“That’s why it was scheduled for the 2009 budget, so we could monitor the financial environment between now and then,” Bates said. “It had a safety net in there.”

Bates – chairman of the council’s Budget and Finance Committee – said Shirley never talked with him about his concerns over the legislation.

“If after he heard our side of the story and said, ‘I still gotta veto it,’ I would have said, ‘OK, I understand,”’ Bates said. “But he didn’t give us that courtesy.”