Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly delivered a message outlining projects to create economic prosperity for the Navajo Nation.
“We must redefine our economic principles. We can no longer sit in the passenger’s seat of receiving royalties and taxes, while others dictate our direction. I am proposing new initiatives that will broaden our outlook and create new opportunities to benefit our people,” President Shelly said during his 20-minute State of the Nation address to the Navajo Nation Council during the first day of their Winter Session.
Shelly informed the council about budgetary issues at the federal level. In September last year, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution to keep the federal government functioning, but the funding levels remained as the same as the previous year. President Shelly said the Navajo Nation has to prepare for potential budget cuts that could be as high as 11 percent for some federally funded programs when the Continuing Resolution expires in March.
President Shelly said one of the projects he plans to recommend to Council this spring is the Narbona Growth Fund. The fund would allow businesses formed under the Fund access to tax breaks. Also, the Fund would create tax revenue for the Navajo Nation, and the Fund would place the Navajo people as preferred shareholders, while the Navajo Nation government would serve as common stockholders.
“New companies formed under the Narbona Growth Fund will gain access to tax breaks only offered under the fund,” Shelly said. “The Navajo Nation will benefit from this new stream of tax revenue.”
President Shelly introduced another initiative that would build a railroad port.
“We are working side by side with Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad to build a trans-loading rail facility, the first of its kind in the southwest. The port authority will create an opportunity to load rail cars and ship the products on the Trans-Con railway,” Shelly said.
Another project that is scheduled to open next month in Fort Defiance, Arizona, is a solar panel manufacturing assembly facility that when fully operational would create more than 400 jobs.
“The solar panels make renewable energy a reality, just one of several areas we are making good in our energy commitment,” Shelly said.
Shelly also called for a change in drilling lease processes for Navajo Oil and Gas Company, which is an enterprise of the Navajo Nation. To explore for new oil or gas, the approval of a lease could take up to three years. Shelly proposed to grant Navajo Oil and Gas the option of choosing areas they would like to explore.
“Navajo Oil and Gas has taken the lead role in our oil and gas production. We have an obligation to them,” Shelly said. “Their success is vital as oil and gas remains a dominant force in the global economy.”
Shelly also proposed that changes be made to the Possessory Interest Tax to help new businesses compete. He asked that the tax be lowered for new businesses and to phase in the tax over a three-year period.
“We can greatly assist their efforts by amending the Possessory Interest Tax to alleviate the tax burden they face during their start up and development years,” Shelly said.
President Shelly also asked the Navajo Council to invest $1.5 million to develop a Navajo Land Department title plant.
“We have been working for the last five years to develop a title plant at our Land Department to assume total control of how we record titles, homesite leases, grazing permits, businesses leases, communication towers and all forms and uses of land,” said Shelly.
Shelly closed his speech by outlining some misconstrued information the office of the controller has told council committees in the past couple of months about federal and state monies that were reverted.
He said that $41 million has been reported as reverted, but the money was actually reimbursement funding.
“To say that $41 million has gone back to the respective governments is completely inaccurate,” President Shelly said.
Reports have indicated that the Navajo Nation has reverted about $124 million in federal and state funding, but President Shelly said the number is misleading. He said that $50 million of the funds have yet to be drawn down, including $33 million to complete public safety facilities in Kayenta and Tuba City.
“The Controller imposed limitations to keep programs from using their full funded amount from the states or federal government,” President Shelly said.
The Navajo Council voted to receive the President’s report in an 11 to 6 vote.