The 2 percent sales tax could go into effect as early as January
By Noel Lyn Smith The Daily Times
FARMINGTON — Citing the need to promote healthy living among Navajo people, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly signed the Healthy Diné Nation Act of 2014 into law on Friday.
The new law will implement an additional 2 percent sales tax on foods that have minimal to no nutritional value and on sweetened beverages purchased on the reservation.
"This administration has advocated for healthy living since we took office. ... Today, I am signing this legislation into law to continue our commitment to healthy lifestyles for our people," Shelly said in a press release from his office in Window Rock, Ariz.
The president vetoed a similar version of the bill in February, stating the Office of the Navajo Tax Commission and retail stores on the Navajo Nation were not prepared to implement the additional tax. The Navajo Nation Council failed to override the veto in April.
About 25,000 Navajos have diabetes and another 75,000 are pre-diabetic, according to a Navajo Area Indian Health Service statistic cited in the latest resolution.
"Diabetes is an enemy that we will conquer by fighting this war together," Shelly said.
Revenue collected from the sales tax will be deposited into the Community Wellness Development Plan to provide funding to the tribe's 110 chapters to develop community wellness projects, such as vegetable gardens, farmers markets, basketball courts, playgrounds, skate parks and swimming pools.
The tax will expire in 2020, unless the council extends it.
Diné Community Advocacy Alliance member Denisa Livingston was among those who watched Shelly sign the bill on Friday. The alliance advocated for the bill.
"As a group, everyone felt it was very overwhelming," Livingston said. "It was a very exciting experience."
She said the group's next step is to meet with the Navajo Tax Commission to set up the fund management plan, which the Division of Community Development will administer.
The group will find out next week when the sales tax will go into effect, but it could be as soon as January, Livingston said.
The Navajo Nation is the first tribal nation to implement this type of sales tax, which sets a standard for other tribal governments to follow, Livingston said.
Nationally, voters in Berkeley, Calif., approved a measure on Nov. 4 to place a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and sweeteners used to flavor drinks.
This past Election Day, a similar measure did not gain the two-thirds vote needed to pass in San Francisco, which would have placed a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.
Also attending Friday's bill signing was Delegate Danny Simpson, who represents Becenti, Crownpoint, Huerfano, Lake Valley, Nageezi, Nahodishgish, Tsé 'íí'áhí and Whiterock chapters in New Mexico. Simpson, who sponsored the bill, applauded the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance for continuing to work on the measure.
"This was an initiative brought forth by Diné citizens, and your voices have been heard," Simpson said in the news release from the Office of the Speaker.
The alliance also worked on separate legislation that eliminated the 5 percent sales tax on fresh fruits and vegetables, water, nuts, seeds and nut butters purchased on the reservation.
That sales tax elimination went into effect on Oct. 1.