WINDOW ROCK-President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez emphasized the need to build both infrastructure and economic development, as they delivered the State of the Navajo Nation Address before the 23rd Navajo Council’s opening Spring Session.
In the address, President Begaye said the administration is working to improve infrastructure across the Nation to benefit both housing conditions and to support economic development. The president also emphasized the need for the Nation to develop an economy that isn’t driven by the renewable resource industry.
“It’s imperative that we strengthen our economy without furthering our dependence on coal, oil and gas revenues,” he said. “To strengthen our economy we have to look at the issues of infrastructure and establish how we can better bring electricity and water to areas in need of development.”
Both President Begaye and Vice President Nez stressed the importance of economic development to combat the current decline in oil, gas and coal revenues.
“We need to incorporate innovative technology, diversify our economic base and establish partnerships with an array of entities on and off the Navajo Nation to find solutions to our economic challenges,” President Begaye said. “We must work together as a diplomatic team to generate new funding sources for the Navajo Nation.”
President Begaye talked about restructuring the Executive Branch to consider merging programs and reevaluating certain departments for added savings in light of projected budget shortfalls.
“The low cost of oil and gas coupled with the hit that the coal industry is currently experiencing has affected our revenue,” he said.
The president said it’s been projected that Nation is experiencing a shortfall of approximately $25 million because of the decline in gas prices. He mentioned capping the Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance (UUFB) as a possible remedy.
“We are looking at about a 12 percent budget cut for FY17, maybe more,” he said. “We also have to put a cap on UUFB.”
Vice President Nez called for council support of the Permanent Trust Fund Five Year Expenditure Plan legislation that aims to implement economic development projects across the Nation and is another proposed remedy to the budget shortfall.
“Through the duration of five years, the plan commits $150 million to be put toward economic development projects like waterline projects, the development and construction of shopping centers, hotels and restaurants, and office building and agricultural projects,” Vice President Nez said.
The first two years of the Five Year Plan include the development of the Ganado Shopping Center, Nahatadzil Shopping Center, Shonto C-Store and Hotel Project, Dennehotso Retail Center and a Northern Agency Agriculture Project among the list of projects.
“Any excess funds not spent during each year will go to the General Fund to cover budgetary shortfalls,” he said.
Although infrastructure and economic development were prominent topics, President Begaye reaffirmed that Veterans are a top priority with the administration and the passing of the Navajo Veterans Act was both monumental and historic.
“This Act is the first of its kind across all tribal nations and it sets a precedence for others to follow,” he said.
The passing of the Act set into motion the establishment of both the Veterans Advisory Council and the Veterans Administration as a freestanding office under OPVP.
It also sets forth a list of priorities that include: housing for veterans; improved access to medical benefits; improved behavioral health services to address post-traumatic stress disorder; and the establishment of a Navajo Veterans Hospital.
President Begaye acknowledged the newly sworn in Veterans Advisory Council who were seated in the gallery. The advisory council’s primary responsibility is to advise the President and the Executive Director of the Navajo Nation Veterans Administration in serving Navajo Veterans.
The State of the Navajo Nation Address also included an introduction of political appointments to Director positions.
“We have been working hard to fill these positions and we are now almost fully staffed,” Vice President Nez told the Council.
OPVP has appointed Crystal J. Deschinny as the Director of the Division of Economic Development, Teresa Hopkins as Director of the Telecommunications and Regulatory Commission, Carl Smith as the Director of the Division of Community Development, and LaVonne Tsosie as Executive Director for Human Resources.
Before the allotted twenty minutes came to a close, President Begaye and Vice President Nez thanked the 23rd Navajo Nation Council for their support in helping move the Navajo Nation forward through the passing of critical legislations.
“We have an open door policy and look forward to meeting with you,” he said.
President Begaye and Vice President Nez also delivered the State of the Navajo Nation Address live on KTNN.