Government

ON Congress members share thoughts, goals for 2015 Tzi-Zho Session

The Fourth Osage Nation Congress will meet for its 2015 Tzi-Zho Session starting Sept. 8 and will use most of the 24-day session to consider and take action on the 2016 fiscal year budgets for the Nation.

Other legislative bills, resolutions and other matters will also be considered. The Osage News inquired with the Congressional members on what plans, priorities and goals they will have for the fall session. Here are the responses from the Congress members:

Congressional Speaker Maria Whitehorn: “As Speaker my top priority is to present an accurate overview of the Fiscal Year 2016 operating budgets requested by the Executive Branch to the Members of Congress. This overview is in the form of summarized reports which compare and track FY16 budget requests to FY15 appropriations and subsequent fiscal years when applicable. The reports have been made available to Congress Members for their review.

Another Priority is to stress the importance for Congress to utilize the information presented to make sound and sustainable financial decisions when appropriating Osage Nation tribal dollars. The FY16 funding bills for Health Benefit, Burial Assistance and Higher Education Scholarship funds were enacted during the 7th Special Session. The appropriation requests remaining before Congress are the Nation’s operating budgets, Master Campus loan repayment and Cultural donations and do not include any initiative or capital spending. At this time, based on the budgets presented, we are faced with a deficit of -$110,189. It is apparent the Nation has reached the point of unsustainable spending in light of the agreed $40 million gaming distribution cap.

The Chief’s Facebook solution to deficit spending is to request an additional distribution from the Gaming Enterprise to maintain the status quo and to support the initiative to expand the Division of Education and Early Childhood Services. There has been no official dialogue between the Executive and the Legislature addressing the feasibility, implementation and finance of this education initiative. The idea is honorable and worthy of support, but without a Master Plan, Congress does not have the information needed to support responsible sustainable spending of the Osage people’s money. Should the Nation hope for a successful outcome or plan for a successful outcome? Financial planning is a must.

Congress has been offered an additional $6.5 million by the casino executive management this past Friday (Aug. 28). Last year an additional $6 million was requested for FY15. Requesting additional distribution opens the potential for new government spending, grows bureaucracy and elevates annual operating budgets, instead of saving money for an overdue expansion project at Tulsa casino or land purchase. The price of the new casino will be more than any project the Nation has ever executed. Government growth and capital expansion of casinos simultaneously without financial planning are reckless. Year after year show we are not good at self-regulating where spending is concerned. Congress needs to enact and enforce acceptable government spending levels to secure the financial future for all Osages.”

Congressman Archie Mason: Top three goals are: “1.) Seek accurate information regarding our internal and external workings of Osage government. 2.) Implement our Congressional rights to explore, discover, investigate, question, and oversee all components of our great Nation. 3.) Make deliberate and precise decisions, write law, appropriate our Nation’s money as mandated by the Constitution. We are a problem-solving Congress and we must complete our tasks with deliberate direction.

On considering and setting the 2016 fiscal year budgets: “Firstly, we have to know exactly what amount of money is available for Congressional appropriations. Secondly, we must assure ourselves and the Nation that FY16 is complete and accurate. Thirdly, we must have keen oversight, ask the right questions, make the best financial decisions, and do so before October 1! The Osage Nation Congressional Committee on Appropriations is a very important committee and will have lead on financial spending appropriations suggestions to the Congress.”

Congresswoman Shannon Edwards: “Top three goals: 1) Establish protocols to track spending and ensure adherence to law in administration of Direct Assistance initiatives funded through the following: Higher Education Scholarship Fund, Health Benefit Fund, (which includes spending for the optional Elder Medicare Supplement Benefit), Burial Assistance Fund, Member Gathering Fund. 2) Ensure FY 2016 spending requests are necessary, provide opportunities for as many members of the Osage Nation as possible, and are reflective of the priorities established by the People in the 25 Year Strategic Plan. 3) Decided whether the Annual Gaming Plan of Operation displays a business plan sufficient to successfully implement a Tulsa Casino expansion and if so, in what amount and under what limitations to borrowing, spending and oversight.

Fulfillment of these goals will keep the Nation and its members moving forward economically and culturally, and provide opportunity to enhance the health and education of the People.    

The budgeting approach Congress adopted in April 2015 was to request operations budgets by Branch and Division with a limitation that would ensure spending within Projected Revenue. That is still the approach I favor. Based on Congressional reports, it is my understanding the Executive Branch’s operating funds budget exceeds the amount Congress requested it propose. Because of that, I am in favor of Congress reducing appropriations to the level requested. That move will ensure there is some funding left for initiatives and activities, which the People have prioritized. Cutting/ eliminating spending for sound initiatives to create more government bureaucracy is ill-advised in my opinion. Our three-branch system requires Congress to be informed, question, demonstrate oversight and require compromise. I need to be satisfied the Administration and my fellow members have adequately debated every spending measure and have eliminated waste before voting ‘yes’.”      

Congressman John Maker: “My main concern every session is spending – We’ve got to get this out-of-control spending down. I could not believe this crazy spending of millions when I first came into office. I look at how this will affect every Osage citizen? My second goal is I’ve introduced the “Osage Graves Protection Act” (ONCA 15-75) and I’ve worked with (ON Historic Preservation Officer) Dr. Andrea Hunter on this. My main concern is there are Osage members who have cemeteries on lands their families previously owned, but now have trouble accessing those lands. There shouldn’t be any reason a landowner should deny an Osage family access to the graves.

Third goal is we need new revenue sources such as a larger Tulsa casino project because I think it’s critical to help the Nation generate more revenue. The time is now to work on that project, something has to be done with that gaming property to do expansion. The longer we wait, the cost of building materials, etc. will go up.”

Congressman James Norris: “On Oct. 1, the Osage Nation will open the doors to our health center and will formally participate in the Indian Health Service Tribal Self-Governance Program (thanks to co-sponsoring ONCR 15-19 which is the resolution passed to approve the execution of the contract). I am pleased that we are one of the many tribes across the country that will be delivering health care and related services to our people based on our specific needs rather than what the IHS thinks is best for our Osage people. I am told by members of the Health Authority Board that in the beginning, services will remain the same without any noticeable differences and that new and expanded services will be offered in the near future.

I will be sponsoring ONCA 15-76 (an updated ON election code proposed by the Election Board). The purpose of this act is an effort to ensure fair elections and the Election Board finds it necessary to review, revise and update existing rules and regulations for the proper operation of the elections. Also I am pleased to co-sponsor ONCA 15-75 (Osage Graves Protection Act sponsored by Maker), which is an act to protect human remains, funerary objects, graves and cemeteries. Currently there are no ON laws that protect our Osage burial sites and cemeteries, and protect the rights of family members to visit these sites.”

Congresswoman Alice Buffalohead: “My goal for the fall session is to stay within budget. Prioritizing what our Nation needs first and appropriating money to those projects, programs, and services that serve the Osage people. Over the past two years the Nation has had a difficult time ‘living within our means.’ The $40 million, per year, we receive from the Osage Casinos used to be enough to run our government, but that isn’t the case anymore.

It is never easy to cast a ‘no’ vote, but it is a reality we are likely to see this session. Not all of the fall session legislation has been filed yet and I have already seen a few budget revisions. I am currently working with the Osage Tax Commission and the Osage Casino on amending a few laws.”

 

Congresswoman Angela Pratt: Prior to this session, I have been focusing on many areas within our social services division and the expansion of our fire prevention program to increase employment opportunities. During this session, I am introducing a bill similar to the 2007 Anti-Methamphetamine Act, which included the Anti-Methamphetamine Joint Task Force. I would like to reintroduce the Joint Task Force as it was short lived several years ago.

This task force will hold us accountable for coming to the table to share information from different Osage Nation Offices such as the Office of the Attorney General, Chief of Police, Social Services, Prevention, Counseling Center, etc.

I would like to see Osage Nation do more in the area of prevention. I’m not saying this will be easy but I do think it is necessary. We can increase penalties to punish all day long but what I’d rather see is how we are really going to help our tribal members and others in our community to combat the alcohol and drug abuse that is plaguing our community. I’m tired of seeing our tribal members dying, going to jail and losing their children. My heart hurts for them and I’d like to see us lead the way in prevention.

The collaborative effort of these offices and perhaps others in our community to share the information we have and develop a Strategic Plan for a better approach to these issues is the first step. I believe that it is important to collect this data and stay current with a plan so that we can keep mental illness and substance abuse at the forefront as we move into our health compact. It’s been my hope for years to expand our treatment services to include a reintegration program for those who have been incarcerated.