The Osage Nation Congress, by majority vote, is requesting Principal Chief Jim Gray to lower the Nation’s 2010 government budgets to $25 million. This motion comes on the final day of the 22nd Special Session with another special session starting Monday to resume work on the government operations budgets.
After discussion and debate, Congress voted 7-5 Wednesday morning for Speaker Archie Mason to send a letter to Gray asking that he lower the 2010 budget to no more than $25 million – that’s $6 million less than a new projected revenue amount set at $31 million, which was announced Tuesday.
Congressman Mark Simms made the motion, which was seconded by Congressman Eddy Red Eagle. Simms said he is basing the motion and new budget amount on the most recent gaming revenue figures he’s aware of.
“Last year the Gaming Board projected $59 million on a projection, we received $37 million in distribution, but accordingly they said they overpaid us $1 million, which made it $38 million,” Simms said. “I’m basing this all off the distribution of the last year of receiving that $37 million. So far this year in 2010, we haven’t received a distribution yet.”
The Nation’s 2010 fiscal year started in October and Simms noted the Nation has not received a distribution of gaming revenue three months later. “In order to match last year’s distribution, we would have to receive $3 million a month… if we receive a distribution in 2010 (January through September) of $3 million (per month), we will have $27 million to work with.”
Simms’s motion comes less than 24 hours after newly appointed Gaming Enterprise Board member Liz Homer announced the Nation’s projected revenue figure has been increased from $27 million to $31 million. Homer, who replaced Tom Slamans on the board last month, spoke at a meeting for the Nation’s government employees.
The projected revenue has been a hot topic in the budget debate amongst Congressional members and the Executive Branch. According to the Osage Nation Constitution, the Congress cannot appropriate more than the next year’s projected revenue.
Simms’s motion passed with seven Congressional members voting for it. Mason, Congresswomen Shannon Edwards, Debra Atterberry and Congressmen Mark Freeman and Raymond Red Corn cast the dissenting votes.
Some Congress members, including Edwards, expressed disappointment that Congress, as a voting body, would not set a budget before adjourning the Special Session.
Edwards said questions about the projected revenue are fair but should have been addressed months before the 2010 appropriation process began and noted Congress’s requirement to appropriate funds for government operations. “We have an obligation here as a Congress to do our work which is to pass operating funds for the Nation… if we’re going to pass a budget for $25 million, then let’s pass a budget for $25 million… to continue to back and forth and delay is not serving anyone’s purpose.”
Red Eagle, who supports a lower budget amount, said Congress has the power to appropriate funds and set their levels and also referred to delays in receiving budget information from the Executive Branch.
“I do not agree with the $25 million one, I agree with what they spent last year at $21 million,” Red Eagle said. “(The Executive Branch has) proven they can run that operation over there with $21 million, why give them four more? But in order to get to a point of closure on this budget, I’ll vote for this motion.”
Red Corn said the budget is below the $31 million projected revenue level and a previous one according to his calculations. “For several weeks this body’s heard from several members who insisted that we get the budget down below projected revenues… I think we’re probably there with this budget in front of us now by my calculation,” he said. “If we pass the budgets the chief sent back on our first request to reduce the budgets, it would be somewhere around $28 million… the last projected revenue was $28.4,” said Red Corn who added the “real projected revenue is gaming, tax and interest income. But now we seem to have achieved this goal that had so long been the object of Congress, today we want to move the goal post and – I don’t understand it.”
Congressman William “Kugee” Supernaw argued the Nation’s gaming revenues have fallen and “figures are unreliable… I submit we don’t need the $31 million budget. We need to hold it down to the essentials and if we can conserve some money, we better because the situation could get worse… before it gets better.”
Chief Gray calls for a 23rd Special Session
Gray said Wednesday afternoon that Congress’s decision was “unfortunate for any people who work in the Executive Branch who represent 85 to 95 percent of the Nation from being able to perform their jobs.” He issued an Executive Proclamation for Congress to start another Special Session at 10 a.m. Monday.