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Congress and Chiefs come together for meeting

By

Benny Polacca

SKIATOOK, Okla. – As the 2014 Tzi-Zho Session gets underway, the Fourth Osage Nation Congress received first glimpses of the 2015 fiscal year governmental budgets that will receive initial consideration and action in the Congressional committees.

On Aug. 16, a joint meeting of the ON Office of the Chiefs and the Congressional Affairs Committee drew nine Congress members and both elected Chiefs where the Executive Branch presented its goals and shared preliminary details regarding the FY 2015 budgets submitted to the Congress less than 24 hours earlier.

Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said his office reviewed the budgets shortly after he was sworn into office in July and his staff made $3.5 million in proposed spending cuts before those budgets were submitted to the Legislative Branch for further consideration and action by the Congress. The Aug. 16 meeting was held at the Skiatook Osage Casino Hotel.

At the meeting, 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 fees 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 a new Pawhuska Indian Village 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.

In a newer development, the Congressional Appropriations Committee met on Aug. 29 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.

News of the budgets exceeding the $44 million mark prompted the Aug. 29 meeting, which is one business day before the Tzi-Zho Session started on Sept. 2. The Congress has until Sept. 30 to pass the FY 2015 budgets, which is the day after the 24-day session span ends.

Standing Bear said in his Sept. 2 opening Tzi-Zho Session address that his office’s budget is trimmed to $1.9 million and is “the lowest amount ever in the new government since 2006, we believe that was a good accomplishment.”

Standing Bear also noted the proposed capital expenditures are high and would need addressing by Congress, adding he believes the $2.5 million Pawhuska arbor bill is a priority. During the Aug. 29 meeting, Standing Bear said he is reluctant to cut proposed spending on Pawhuska arbor. If reduced, the architects may say construction is not possible, he said. Standing Bear suggested the Congress hear from the architects first before considering a reduction to the $2.5 million arbor bill.

Assistant Principal Chief Raymond Red Corn told the appropriations committee the budget totals surpassed the projected revenue for major 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.

Red Corn also said the health benefit card program available to all Osages has increased in use by over $1 million in a single year.

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.

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.

For more information on the Congressional Tzi-Zho Session, legislation and committee meetings, visit the Legislative Branch website at: www.osagenation-nsn.gov/who-we-are/congress-legislative-branch


Original Publish Date: 2014-09-10 00:00:00

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Benny Polaccahttps://osagenews.org
Benny Polacca started at the Osage News in 2009 as a reporter and has covered various stories and events impacting the Osage Nation and Osage people. Polacca is part of the News team awarded the Native American Journalist Association’s Elias Boudinot Free Press Award in 2014 and other NAJA Media Awards and SPJ Oklahoma Pro Chapter awards for news coverage and photography. Polacca is an Arizona State University graduate and participated in the former American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. He previously worked at The Forum newspaper covering the Fargo, N.D. region as the weeknight reporter.
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