2014 Tzi-Zho Session Day 4

2014 TZI-ZHO SESSION DAY FOUR: The Fourth Osage Nation Congress will reconvene for day six of the Tzi-Zho Session on Monday Sept. 8 to continue considering the 2015 fiscal year budgets.

Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear submitted the FY 2015 budgets to the Legislative Branch on Aug. 15 for the Congress members’ review. In his first Tzi-Zho Session executive address to the Congress on Sept. 2, Standing Bear noted his office trimmed $3.5 million from the governmental operations/ department budgets before they were submitted.

At an Aug. 16 joint meeting of the Executive Branch and Congressional Affairs Committee, Standing Bear told the Congress the FY 2015 budgets totaled just over $43.7 million for the department operations of the three branches. This includes $26.4 million in proposed spending for the departments under the six Executive Branch divisions, boards and commissions and $17.2 million in proposed spending for other entities and direct services including the judicial and legislative branches, the Attorney General’s Office, the Office of Fiscal Performance and Review, burial assistance and the campus master plan loan to pay for phase one construction. The proposed spending in these budgets total $43,709,622. 

The challenge for this Tzi-Zho Session is the Congress cannot appropriate annual budgets over the projected revenue figure, according to the 2006 Constitution. Earlier this year, the Congress voted to set the FY 2015 projected revenue figure at $44,069.384. This figure includes $40 million from casino revenue and the remainder coming from Tax Commission revenue and bank account interest. 

Another challenge the Congress must consider is the proposed budgets presented by the Standing Bear administration on Aug. 15 do not contain other legislation that requires an appropriation. One example is the $2.5 million appropriation bill (ONCA 14-56) for construction of the new Pawhuska Indian Village dance arbor and ONCA 14-55, which is requesting $300,000 for installing a fire sprinkler and security alarm system in the Osage Tribal Museum. Both bills were filed with the Congressional clerk on Aug. 22.

On Aug. 29, the Congressional Appropriations Committee met and made recommendations to the Congress for spending reductions or delaying selected spending bills in light of the FY 2015 budgets surpassing the 85 percent spending threshold of the projected revenue figure.

With newer appropriation bills filed as of Aug. 29, the proposed FY 2015 spending (in budgets and separate appropriation bills) surpassed the projected revenue mark, climbing to $50.5 million, said Congressman John Jech who is the current chairman of the appropriations committee. With proposed spending at $50.5 million, that leaves a deficit of approximately $6.5 million.

Assistant Principal Chief Raymond Red Corn told the appropriations committee the budget totals surpassed the projected revenue for reasons including: The ON Gaming Commission grew to hire more employees in wake of the Osage Casino expansions for the Skiatook and Ponca City casino/ hotel properties. The cost for the additional employees is borne by the ON government since ONGC employees are not on the casino’s payroll. The ONGC infrastructure has also increased, but gaming officials have not increased its gaming revenue distribution to the ON government to support the extra costs, he said.

After discussion on the budgets, the appropriations committee voted to make five recommendations to the Congress to reduce spending or postpone action on the following five bills during the Tzi-Zho Session.

- Decrease spending in the divisional budgets for ON departments to 95 percent.
- Postpone action on ONCA 14-58, which is a $1 million appropriation bill to fund land purchases for the ON government to buyback Osage County land for sale that is the former reservation.
- Reduce ONCA 14-69 by $835,00, which is a $935,000 appropriation bill to fund the Nation’s capital asset and improvement fund. This leaves the bill at $100,000, if passed as recommended.
- Postpone ONCA 14-80, which is a $175,000 appropriation bill to fund the 2015 arts matching grant program administered by the Osage Nation Foundation. 
- Reduce ONCA 14-73 by $3.9 million, which is the $7.9 million appropriation bill to replenish the ON higher education scholarship fund. 

The five recommendations are not mandates, but the 12-member Congress voted 11-1 to adopt the appropriations committee recommendations on Sept. 2. Voting “no” was Congresswoman Shannon Edwards who expressed concern with the recommended cut to the scholarship appropriation.

Edwards said she is worried the reduction will not allow the scholarship fund to have enough money for one full school year ahead of time for continuing and new students who apply for the program. Edwards also believes the bills should also be heard in their committees of jurisdiction before the recommendations take place.

ONCA 14-73 (sponsored by Jech) is scheduled for initial consideration by the Congressional Education Committee on Sept. 10. 

Jech said the recommendations were only made so the Congress has some guidance going forward with the budget considerations. He said the recommendations can be adjusted by the committee if newer information is presented that supports more funding be added to a reduced bill.

During the Sept. 5 session, the Congress discussed newer budget developments and items that also need consideration including replenishing the Nation’s health benefit card program fund. A $5 million appropriation bill (ONCA 14-78 sponsored by Edwards) to refill the health benefit card fund is filed and is slated for consideration by the Congressional health and social services committee on Sept. 11. 

Also in related budget news, Congresswoman Alice Buffalohead is sponsoring and filed a resolution (ONCR 14-16) requesting the ON Gaming Enterprise Board to include an additional $10 million of dividend payments to the Osage Nation government in the gaming board’s annual plan of operation for FY 2015. The resolution will be subject to a Congressional commerce and economic development committee meeting that has yet to be set.

For more information on the Congressional Tzi-Zho Session, legislation and committee meetings, visit the Legislative Branch website