Government

ON Congress approves more government budgets, spending bills

During the Sept. 28 session, the Fifth Osage Nation Congress passed more government operations budgets for the 2017 fiscal year and other budget-related bills.

Those passed bills and resolutions will be sent to Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear’s office for review and consideration of action. Those bills passing include:

ONCA 16-94: The budget for the Nation’s Language and Cultural Resources Division set at $4,201,585. Congressman Ron Shaw, current chairman of the Congressional appropriations committee, is sponsor of all budget bills. ONCA 16-94 passed 10-2 with “no” votes from Congress members Shannon Edwards and Maria Whitehorn.

Edwards said the language/ cultural resources division bill contains the Nation’s new immersion school program and wanted to hear more information about the school program. The Executive Branch launched the immersion program for Osage children (ages 0-5 last year) and is now offering a kindergarten class starting this year.

“That is a multimillion-dollar investment,” Edwards said, adding, “Based on the fact that I didn’t see any support documentation for that, there was no one here to discuss the plan, etc., unless someone can enlighten me how this immersion school works, how many teachers there are, how many students they anticipate, or has it already started … I’ll be voting ‘no.’”

Congressman Ron Shaw noted during the budget consideration process, this budget was reduced by $340,000 and most of the budget revenue will come from tribal funds.

Standing Bear previously told Osage News the immersion school with kindergarten program started Aug. 15 and there is an increase of nine students this year from 2015’s inaugural class of 19. Currently four kindergarten students are attending the immersion school this year. He also said at the time the kindergarten class would be kept small due to funding.

ONCA 16-107: An act to establish a retained revenue fund for the Nation as an effort to save available unobligated money (Shaw). According to the bill, the retained revenue fund is to be funded by tribal revenue unexpended from the previous fiscal year as reported by the Nation’s Treasurer upon completion of the annual audit. The bill also calls for 100 percent of the tribal carryover funds to be deposited into the retained revenue fund annually before Oct. 31 and the deposited funds shall also be invested in accordance with approved investment policies.

The bill states the Congress shall appropriate, at its discretion, out of the retained revenue fund for the benefit of the Nation and those appropriations shall require a super majority of eight affirmative votes in favor of spending retained revenue funds. Shaw said the Nation cannot respond to fiscal emergencies if there’s no sufficient tribal funds available, which prompted him to propose the bill. ONCA 16-107 passed unanimously 12-0.

ONCA 16-111 (sponsored by Congresswoman Maria Whitehorn): A $1 million appropriation bill to Bluestem Ranch LLC. The bill passed 10-2 with “no” votes from Congressman RJ Walker and Shaw.

Walker noted the amended bill states the $1 million appropriation would come out of the general treasury fund, but he preferred the money come from the Nation’s $2 million economic development fund and said he would vote “no.”

Shaw said he supports the Bluestem Ranch board, but added he is voting “no” because he is unsure if the $1 million is needed. Shaw also noted the board received an initial budget of $2 million earlier this year, which has yet to be spent and board plans are still in works.

Congresswoman Alice Buffalohead said she would like to see the economic development fund grow and prefers the money be used for other ventures, including the ON Utility Authority Board, which pursued a feasibility study for broadband internet service earlier this year. She added the ranch board estimated they would need $3 million in the beginning, and would vote “yes” for the bill.

Whitehorn said the additional $1 million may be needed for property lease costs, which stems from conversations between the ranch board and Executive Branch. Whitehorn said the Tallgrass Economic Development LLC will also need operating money in FY 2017 and also wants the economic development fund to grow.  

ONCA 16-115 (Edwards): An act to appropriate $358,304 for government employee base pay adjustments based on a merit market survey conducted by the Human Resources Department, which will receive the money to pay out the base pay adjustments to eligible employees.

Edwards said the money is budgeted “for a specific purpose to pay base pay increases” to government employees who are subject to the Nation’s merit-based employment system. According to the Osage Constitution, the Congress is charged with implementing a merit-based employment system for the employees excluding executive staff and other appointed positions serving at the will of the Principal Chief.

The $358,304 figure came from Human Resources Director Scott Johnson who held a presentation with the Congress earlier in the Tzi-Zho Session. Edwards said she supported the base pay increases. The Human Resources Department conducted a merit market survey on the employee positions to determine if the salaries need to be increased to remain competitive with regional employers. Edwards said it’s been three years since the last merit market survey was conducted to adjust salaries and noted the increase is needed to help pay for recently-increased health insurance coverage, especially those who live “paycheck to paycheck.”

Buffalohead said she would vote “yes,” noting “the human resources department – every place I’ve ever worked at is the entity that takes care of merit and pay raises… that’s a large part of their job, getting these evaluations, working with payroll, implementing merit, implementing pay raises… it’s widely practiced.” Whitehorn, who voted “yes” noted all three branches pay indirect costs, to fund the Human Resources Department, which holds all employee records for the branches.

The bill passed 11-1 with a “no” vote from Walker, who said the bill looks like intent for Congress to control the salary increases for employees. Walker also noted the money for salary increases is for employees in all three government branches and questioned whether it was proper. Referring to the Constitution, Walker said the Congress is to pass a budget for each branch and “not a budget that has all three branches.”

ONCA 16-116 (Edwards): An act to appropriate $428,408 for government employee pay for performance recognition bonuses based on merit. The bill passed 11-1 with Walker also voting “no” on this bill. Edwards said the funding will also be appropriated to the Human Resources Department to distribute to employees (under the merit-based employment system) for performance recognition bonuses awarded annually and some funds are also available for other recognition awards including gift/ food certificates.

Two Congressional resolutions also passed with unanimous votes on Sept. 28.

ONCR 16-44 (Buffalohead): A Congressional resolution to support the Nation’s submission of an Economic Development and Minerals Program grant application to the U.S. Department of Energy and Economic Development on behalf of the Osage Minerals Council pursuant to Public Law 93-638.

ONCR 16-45 (Buffalohead): A Congressional resolution to support submission of a Tribal Energy Development Capacity grant application to the U.S. Department of Energy and Economic Development on behalf of the Osage Minerals Council pursuant to Public Law 93-638.

The Congress will next meet at 10 a.m. Oct. 3. For Day 24, but the Congress has agreed to extend the Tzi-Zho Session an additional three days.

To view filed legislation and the Congressional calendar for scheduled sessions and committee meetings, go online to: www.osagenation-nsn.gov/who-we-are/legislative-branch

The sessions and meetings are also live streamed at the following link: www.osagenation-nsn.gov/multimedia/live-media