2014 Tzi-Zho Session Day 6

2014 TZI-ZHO SESSION DAY SIX: In addition to the 2015 fiscal year budgets, the Fourth Osage Nation Congress will consider two pieces of legislation that propose eliminating the five-person ON Tax Commission board and a law seeking to amend the Nation’s merit-based employment law regarding adjustment of ON government employee salaries.

During the Sept. 8 session, legislative bill ONCA 14-83 (sponsored by Congresswoman Alice Buffalohead) moved into first reading which, if passed, will remove the five-person Tax Commission board and set in law that the entity be considered an Executive Branch department consisting only of one director and supporting office staff. 

Buffalohead said she is a courtesy sponsor of ONCA 14-83 on behalf of the Executive Branch requesting the bill, which is now assigned to the Congressional governmental operations committee for initial consideration. A committee meeting date regarding this bill has yet to be set. 

Created under the former Tribal Council government structure in the late 1990s, the five-person Tax Commission oversaw administration and enforcement of tribal tax matters including negotiations with Oklahoma state authorities regarding the vehicle tag and tobacco tax compacts and rules and issues regarding revenue from sources including business licenses.

The Congressional appropriations committee met on Sept. 8 and considered several board and commission budgets, including the Tax Commission board budget, despite the filing of ONCA 14-83. 

Tax Commission board members Beverly Brownfield, Teresa Rutherford and Rhonda Wallace attended the meeting, but the committee discussion was limited to the budgets listed on the agenda. Committee chairman John Jech told the attendees that other matters would need to be visited at future meetings.

The budget meetings are also when initial proposed budget reductions are considered or already made by the Executive Branch, who submitted the respective department budgets to the Congress. Brownfield noted the board’s supplies line item and travel line item was cut, which the board planned to use for travel to conference events including the United Indian Nations in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas (UNIOKT). 

In the case of the Tax Commission, Assistant Principal Chief Raymond Red Corn said the board budget was reduced by $50,000 from $95,000 to $45,000. Thus far, the Executive Branch has made cuts to budget items including travel and conference/ special events to several entities, including the Tax Commission. 

Red Corn acknowledged ONCA 14-83’s filing along with the budget discussion happening that day. “I don’t know how that affects Congress’ consideration of this budget, that’s for Congress to decide,” he said at the meeting.

Also during the Sept. 8 session, Congresswoman Shannon Edwards said she is sponsoring bill ONCA 14-84, which seeks to amend the Nation’s merit-based employment system law “to limit the recalculation of the salary range for each (ON government employee) position to once every three years.”

If ONCA 14-84 is passed, this would delay reevaluation of employee salaries by one year to three from two years. The current law does not specify a mandate on when salary ranges can be set. Since the merit-based employee system’s law passage, ON government employee salaries have been revisited twice (including once when the law took effect) for potential increases to remain competitive. 

The Nation is mandated by the 2006 constitution to establish a merit-based employee system, which was passed in 2011 by the Second ON Congress. 

According to ONCA 14-84, the bill seeks to amend the merit-based employment law (ONCA 10-85) requiring the ON Human Resources Department to maintain “a salary range which sets a minimum and maximum salary rate for each position calculated and set no more often than every three years.”

“We did a calculation and the second year we did another calculation that resulted in another $1 million in addition to the expenses of the Nation, this is an effort to try to spread out some of that (expense),” Edwards said. “I think we need to tighten up how we’re doing it and also do it right and the longer timeframe will give us the opportunity to do that.”

ONCA 14-84 has yet to be assigned to a Congressional committee, but the governmental operations committee typically hears legislation and operation matters involving the HR department.

The entire Congress next meets on Wednesday Sept. 10 at 10 a.m. for Day Eight of the Tzi-Zho Session. In the meantime Congressional committees will continue meeting to initially consider legislative matters.

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