2014 Tzi-Zho Session Day 19

2014 TZI-ZHO SESSION DAY 19: During the Sept. 23 session, the Fourth Osage Nation Congress unanimously approved the 2015 fiscal year budget for the Nation’s child, family and senior community services division at $9.8 million. The budget (ONCA 14-70) bill will now be sent to Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear for Executive Branch consideration.

Also in other budget developments, the Congress voted down an effort to increase the $4 million higher education scholarship fund replenishment bill (ONCA 14-73) to $7.2 million. The $4 million figure is intended to fund scholarships for Osage recipients through fall 2015, but Congresswoman Shannon Edwards proposed the increase to prevent the fund expressing concern about the timing of the fund’s expected depletion and any potential future budget shortfalls. 

Edwards told the Congress the $7.2 million figure is intended to fund the scholarships in advance of budgeting time and said the advance budgeting practice came in wake of the budget stalemate in 2009 when the First ON Congress and the Chief Gray administration debated the FY 2010 budgets, which were not passed until January 2010. In the meantime, government operations were funded by emergency resolutions and the situation left the scholarship program without adequate funding leaving scholarship recipients unsure if they would receive funding for the spring semester. 

“As a result and a fix for that problem, we began appropriating funds a year in advance for scholarships so that scholarship period ran for the summer school, and the fall and spring semesters,” said Edwards, “I would like to see our Congress work hard to find alternatives to budgeting crunches.”

Edwards also mentioned a suggestion brought up during earlier session days, which is the Congress vote to tap into the Nation’s $30 million permanent fund intended to fund direct services for Osages, if needed. Direct services available to Osage citizens only include the scholarship program, health benefit card and burial assistance. 

Congresswoman Alice Buffalohead said she agreed with several of Edwards’ comments on the proposed increase, but added: “the reality is that we don’t have the money, we have increased services to the people over the last two years, increased burial assistance, we increased the health benefit card, we’ve taken on the gaming surveillance, we’ve had no more extra money coming in – we put ourselves here, this Congress put ourselves here. Taking out of that permanent fund right now is a fix but (if) we continue to take out of that for anything whether it’s direct assistance or payroll over the course of the next four or five years, that money’s gone and then where are we? We’re not adding any more money to it.”

Buffalohead said she would vote “no” for the amendment based on the amount of money available for budgeting.

Congressman Ron Shaw addressed the amendment issue in case public perceptions are made that the Congress is cutting a direct service for Osages. He said: “It’s simply meant to cut the appropriation made at this time, I’m on board with Congresswoman Buffalohead,” adding he would support coming into a special session to revisit adding money to the scholarship fund, if needed.

Congressman John Jech, said he would not support the amendment too, adding the Congress is considering one-time spending bills this session including the $2.5 million bill to build a new Pawhuska dance arbor and $300,000 for an Osage Tribal Museum fire suppression/ security system, meaning those items will not require the same amount of money next year and that available money could be put toward the scholarship fund.

Earlier that morning, the Congressional Appropriations Committee met to discuss the budgeting status and heard from Treasurer Callie Catcher who said the $4 million figure would be sufficient to fund the scholarships through fall 2015.

After debate on the proposed $7.2 million amendment, it failed with a 9-3 vote with “no” votes from Congressmen Otto Hamilton, Jech, Archie Mason, Angela Pratt, Shaw, William “Kugee” Supernaw, RJ Walker, Buffalohead and Speaker Maria Whitehorn. “Yes” votes came from Edwards, John Maker and James Norris.

ONCA 14-73 is now subject to a final vote at $4 million for the scholarship fund.

In other Congress developments, the bill seeking to abolish the ON Tax Commission five-member board (ONCA 14-83) also moves to second reading for a final vote during the Sept. 24 session. 

Also during the Sept. 24 session, the $2.5 million bill (ONCA 14-56) for the Pawhuska dance arbor project is subject to any proposed floor amendments. Other bills subject to amendments are: a $370,000 bill (ONCA 14-68) to replenish the burial assistance fund; A $100,000 appropriation (ONCA 14-69) for the capital asset and improvement fund; and the appropriation budgets for the cultural, land & commerce and governmental operations divisions (ONCA 14-71, ONCA 14-75, ONCA 14-77).