Government

[Editor's Note: This story was originally published Oct. 30 and was modified on Nov. 18 for clarification on this issue.]

The Osage Nation Congress will consider 96 proposed amendments to the 2010 fiscal year budgets Monday, the majority of which are proposed cuts to the tribe’s government operations and Principal Chief Jim Gray’s office. The cuts include more than $3 million in spending.

Congress ended its 20th Special Session on Tuesday with seven congressmen and women reading the proposed amendments for the Executive Branch budgets into record before adjourning for the week. A copy of the proposed budget amendments, released Wednesday afternoon, detail the suggested reductions in Executive Branch spending. The cuts include salary reductions for 13 administrative positions; eliminating 10 jobs (vacant, proposed or filled); and cutting down on expenses such as shipping, transportation and contractual jobs in 15 departments (including Gray’s office).

Gray said, “I’m not happy about any of it,” on Thursday and called the proposed reductions, “harsh, harsh cuts to the operations of the Osage Nation. I’m hoping in the time we have between now and Monday that some Congress members will come to find out this isn’t the best way to be conducting business.”

The 96 amendments proposed Tuesday came from Congressmen Eddy Red Eagle, Mark Simms, Doug Revard and William “Kugee” Supernaw, as well as Congresswomen Faren Revard Anderson, Jerri Jean Branstetter and Shannon Edwards. Most of the proposed cuts come in the wake of a locked-door meeting Monday attended by these congresspersons, except Simms and Edwards, where many of these reductions are believed to have been discussed.

The Osage News reported the unannounced meeting on its Web site Tuesday – one day after receiving a tip about the impromptu gathering and unsuccessfully gaining access to the meeting in the congressional chambers. Edwards wrote a letter to Gray earlier that day, while she was in the office, saying she could hear the five congresspersons and Congressman Anthony Shackelford meeting in their office’s common area where “these members are going through (three budget) bills to determine what they want to propose as individual amendments tomorrow and how to vote as a block.”

“I think it’s dangerous and sends the wrong message,” Gray said of the unannounced congressional meeting Monday, which included quorums for four congressional subcommittees with those present. “I’ve never seen a state government do something like this.”

Congressman Supernaw defended the proposed cuts in a phone interview Wednesday with the Osage News stating that Congress must trim the FY 2010 budgets (originally totaling about $41 million) in order to keep the spending at the Nation’s 2010 projected revenue of $27 million. Also on Tuesday, Congress passed a resolution which approves the $27 million amount as the 2010 projected revenue figure.

Supernaw cited a section of the Nation’s Constitution which requires Congress to set the budgets for the three branches of government, but adds: “The annual budget shall not exceed projected revenues.” Gray has yet to sign or veto the 2010 revenue projection resolution.

Congressman Raymond Red Corn said Monday the Nation’s budgets have been trimmed to $33 million after cuts were made during earlier subcommittee meetings and also when other spending bills were tabled during the appropriations process. With Monday’s proposed cuts estimated around $3 million, that leaves another $3 million to be cut if Congress members plan to hold FY 2010 spending at the projected revenue amount of $27 million.

What’s on the table for possible budget cuts?

In ONCA 09-63, titled the “FY 2010 Office of the Chiefs Appropriation Act,” More than $830,000 in cuts are suggested for Gray’s office including salary reductions for nine employees and the elimination of two positions. The chief’s office is projecting to spend just over $2.5 million in FY 2010.

Projected cuts to Gray’s staff members’ salaries range from $583 to $22,832. Calls for position eliminations include cutting a legal analyst and a support staff position that’s yet to be filled.

Spending reduction amendments suggested for Gray’s office include: cutting more than $32,000 for lodging, $41,900 for transportation, and $140,000 for litigation matters.

“It would handicap the Executive Branch, as well as the Nation” if the cuts are approved, Gray said. Most of the suggested cuts were voiced by Congresswoman Anderson, who sponsored the appropriation bills for Gray’s office and for the government operations.

ONCA 09-66, the “FY 2010 Government Operations Departments and Programs Appropriation Act,” proposes about $3 million in proposed program spending reductions for 14 departments including the Osage News.

Congressman Red Eagle proposed an amendment to cut $117,500 from the Nation’s burial assistance fund which is used to help surviving tribal members offset funeral costs for their loved ones. The appropriated amount of $367,500 would be dropped to $250,000 if this amendment passes.

“That’s going to cut us back on serving about 70 (clients),” said Constituent Services Administrator Jacque Jones, adding this is the third year she’s requested $367,500 as the same amount for burial assistance. That figure serves 105 clients with the maximum amount of $3,500 distributed to each Osage client requesting assistance.

The demand for burial assistance has gone up in the past two years because of increased advertising of its availability, Jones said. She said her office has served 103 clients for burial assistance in FY 2009, meaning funding remained for two more clients.

Red Eagle also motioned to strike $386,393 from the Home Health budget.

Congressman Supernaw suggested more than $58,000 in cuts to the 2010 budget of the Osage News, including $15,000 that is budgeted for design and layout of the newspaper. The Osage News contracts with a Bartlesville, Okla.-based firm to conduct these duties so the monthly newspaper can be printed and mailed out to the Nation’s constituents.

If the design layout funding is cut from the newspaper’s budget, the Osage News will be unable to print starting in November, Interim Editor Shannon Shaw told Supernaw in the phone interview Wednesday. After further discussion, Supernaw told Shaw, “I’ll try to keep that in there,” by encouraging his congressional colleagues to vote against the amendment when they meet for the 21st Special Session to consider the budgets.

Supernaw also proposed the following cuts to the Osage News: $11,400 cut from transportation; $15,000 for a writing coach; $5,000 to pay freelance writers; and $6,000 cut for outside printing and art work for advertising purposes.

The Communications Department has an audio visual technician position slated to be cut as well as $145,000 for “Web maintenance updates.” Other department items targeted for cuts include a $250,000 public relations campaign and $10,000 for “graphics/ layout.”

Other suggested cuts include: eliminating one proposed assistant position and cutting $100,000 for the intern/ externship program in the Education Department; two positions in Strategic Planning and one in WIC; two assistant staffers at the Fitness Centers in Hominy and Fairfax; reducing the Museum fund for purchasing art/ artifacts from $13,000 to $5,000; and one vacant position, as well as cutting $54,840 for conferences and special events in the Language Department’s budget.

Also this week, Supernaw introduced a bill to trim the Legislative Branch’s FY 2010 budget, even though it’s already been passed. Under ONCA 10-09, Supernaw’s bill calls for reducing his branch’s $2 million budget by $200,000 after proposing to cut a line item for “equipment” and reducing the Office of Fiscal and Performance Review’s budget from over $417,833 to $285,354 with the elimination of two proposed auditor positions.

Congresswoman Edwards issued amendment proposals to both budgets which would allocate the original $2.5 million amount for the chief’s office and $27 million for the government operations budget. Under her amendments, Chief Gray would have authority in allocating the monies to all programs, departments and divisions “in accordance with all budgets and justifications approved” by him.

The 21st Special Session of Congress starts at 2 p.m. Monday in the congressional chambers on the Osage campus.