WINDOW ROCK — With a projected six percent shortfall in the fiscal year 2016 budget, the three branch chiefs of the Navajo Nation government met in closed session Monday to identify its nine priorities.
The nine priorities were discussed at length among Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez, Speaker LoRenzo Bates, acting Chief Justice Eleanor Shirley and members of the Navajo Nation Council at Fire Rock Navajo Casino.
According to a joint news release that the Navajo Times received Wednesday afternoon from the Office of the President and Vice President and Office of the Speaker, the priority list of projects include: an emphasis on water rights/projects, economic development and infrastructure.
Other projects include housing, education, human services, governance, public safety, natural resources and judicial needs, states the joint statement.
“We are looking at a six-percent shortfall across the board and we’re going to make sure we have adequate funding, especially for the priority areas,” Begaye said.
The Navajo Nation needs to look at establishing property taxes and other sustainable revenues to revive the Navajo economy, Begaye said, noting that these types of revenue generating mechanisms would help offset reliance on funding from the gas, oil and coal industries.
In his statement, Begaye coined revenue from gas, oil and coal as “volatile” and how the Navajo Nation needs to raise more revenue that is sustainable in nature.
The nine priorities fall in line with the president’s four pillars: Navajo veterans, elders and youth, infrastructure and job creation, Begaye said, adding that division directors have been issued orders to comply their programs and departments with the nine priorities.
Similarly, Bates emphasized the need for the Nation to be united to move its initiatives forward and lobby effectively to fulfill them.
“As I previously stated, the three branches need to communicate and have honest discussions on a regular basis in order for our government to make real changes,” Bates said.
According to Jared Touchin, spokesman for the Office of the Speaker, Council members also issued several recommendations, including adding uranium issues under the nine priorities. There was also the idea of developing a new and more effective annual budget process that will help to meet the needs of the people, Touchin said.
Through the creation of a OPVP workgroup, Nez said that it would research infrastructure to provide Council with recommendations on policy, structure or law changes that are needed.
For instance, Nez cited how changes in the Division of Community Development, Division of Economic Development, Office of Management and Budget and Office of the Controllers are needed.
“The $554 million is available, but how do we keep those dollars on Navajo? That should be the overall goal for us because we don’t want it to flow off the Nation,” Nez said.
As money flows off the Nation, Nez said the social and economic status quo would remain and so it’s critical to look at ways to keep Navajo dollars on tribal land.
Speaking to the judicial branch, Shirley presented several priorities, including legislative support to assist in funding new judicial facilities. This is a priority for the judicial branch, given how the number of dilapidated judicial facilities exists and how they also pose health and safety risks for judicial employees.
Shirley also cited improvements needed to occur to the restorative justice or peacemaking program.
According to the Office of the Speaker, the Council directed Bates to host these leadership meetings with the branch chiefs in an effort to reestablish ties among the tribal branches and unify to advocate and lobby on behalf of the Navajo people at the county, state and federal levels.
“Working and communicating together will make our Nation much stronger internally and at all other levels of government,” Bates said, before adding that the branch chiefs will continue meeting to see these priorities through.
A written statement outlining the nine priorities will be drafted at the conclusion of its next branch chief meeting, according to the joint news release.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Navajo Times. Used with permission. All rights reserved.