The Osage Nation government is on the verge of hitting its spending ceiling of tribal funding for the 2012 fiscal year. As a result, the Second Osage Nation Congress has put all appropriation bills requesting tribal funding for department services and projects on hold pending further input from incoming ON Treasurer Callie Catcher.
The Nation’s annual projected revenue mark is the limit on government spending per year, according to the Constitution. The projected revenue for the 2012 fiscal year is $40 million and the Nation has already budgeted over $30 million in tribal revenue for government services through September. That leaves under $10 million left to spend on appropriation bills to stay below the FY 2012 projected revenue line.
March 30 marked the 11th day of the 2012 Hun-Kah Session, but 18 proposed legislative bills requesting funds remained in committee or are slated for Second Reading by that date. Several of those bills are crucial as they request funding to continue governmental department services until the 2012 fiscal year ends on Sept. 30; to cover employee payroll adjustments for the merit system; and to cover shortfalls in federal funding awarded to the Nation for department services.
“We are in a position where the tribe is teetering on deficit spending,” Congressman Eddy Red Eagle said during a March 23 Congressional Appropriations Committee meeting, of which he is chairman. “Our Constitution does not allow that.”
According to the Osage Constitution, the Congress shall enact an annual budget for the government operations, but “the annual budget shall not exceed projected revenues.”
The budget situation has been an ongoing topic since the Hun-Kah Session started. Catcher, who was confirmed as the Nation’s Treasurer on March 21, was on travel status, said Congressional Speaker Jerri Jean Branstetter. With Catcher absent and unanswered questions about the Nation’s finances the Congressional committees tabled legislation dealing with funding requests but acted on non-appropriation legislation in the meantime.
Red Eagle added: “We need to set precedent – if it happens again, we’ll know what to do.”
Congress members expressed frustration with the situation as discussions about the budgets rose during sessions or committee meetings. “We spent six months in between sessions, when we get to this point, we’re supposed to be ready to roll,” said Congresswoman Shannon Edwards.
Despite the legislative roadblock, there was a consensus that more information and scrutiny is needed to consider the budgets. “We need to pull over to the roadside and look at the map – otherwise we’re just driving,” said Congressman Raymond Red Corn.
A March 22 Congressional fiscal analysis reports the Nation is spending $34.2 million so far in FY 2012 on reoccurring and non-reoccurring costs, which include the three branches’ operating budgets, and merit employment system salaries adjusted to competitive market rates and level of employee education. The merit system launched with FY 2012.
At issue are the supplemental appropriation bills requesting tribal funds, which come from the Nation’s tribal revenue stream of mostly gaming profits, bank account interest accrued and ON Tax Commission fees.
Budgets dealing with federal funds awarded to the Nation are not counted toward tribal revenue and the Congressional committees have taken that into consideration while reviewing the legislation.
The Congress members have debated the question of tapping into the Nation’s reserve funding which sits at approximately $50 million to accommodate the tribal funding requests. In the end, Congress agreed to hold off on the spending bills until Catcher returned on March 29.
On March 30, Several Congress members reported they had a promising initial budget meeting with the Executive Branch the day before.
The meeting, requested by Congressional Speaker Jerri Jean Branstetter, targeted Principal Chief John Red Eagle and Catcher to “make sure they understand why we stopped the bills,” Congressman Red Eagle said. “We got consensus from everyone that we should not go into the Treasury (to spend the $50 million reserve funding).”
The March 22 Congressional fiscal analysis notes that 17 proposed legislative bills totaling $75.9 million have been filed in Congress and await further consideration.
Worse case scenario? If the Nation were to approve the $75.9 million in spending – which would be added to the $34.2 million already approved by Congress – that would put the Nation in debt by $18.9 million after spending the $40 million in projected revenue and tapping the $50 million in reserve funding.
An 18th appropriation bill was filed March 23 but it’s for federal funding received and designated for the Nation’s Constituent Services department and will likely be passed by Congress along with other federal funding bills since they are not part of the tribal funding situation.
Congressional legal counsel Loyed “Trey” Gill told the appropriations committee approximately $13 million of the appropriation bills are from the Executive Branch which deal with supplemental appropriation requests for some departments, budget adjustments or requests to fulfill services for a department which did not receive all of its anticipated federal funds.
Michael Lewis, the financial comptroller for the Executive Branch, appeared before the appropriations committee during Catcher’s absence and said he was not aware that the funding requests exceeded the projected revenue line.
Representatives of the Executive Branch told the appropriations committee the budget requests cover several programs including:
- $1.5 million needed for work on the Master Plan for a revamped government campus.
- $45,000 requested by the Education Department for computer software.
- A funding appropriation to the Community Health Nursing program, which has seen a decrease in its federal funds.
- $167,255 to the Health Authority Board for its operation and board member stipends and an administrative assistant.
- The Nation’s Police Department is also seeking to replace outdated equipment for five of its officers on the force.
Ashlee Morton, the legislative analyst for the Executive Branch, said Chief Red Eagle and his staff reviewed the proposed funding requests for potential cuts depending on necessity of the services at issue during a Congressional appropriations committee meeting.
The appropriations committee has since requested the Executive Branch to provide updated budgets with reductions reflected in them.
The Congress will also consider legislation dealing with budgeting. Congresswoman Shannon Edwards is sponsoring ONCA 12-49, which is “An act to limit the annual appropriation of the Osage Nation to the funds on deposit in the Treasury at a specific date.”
ONCA 12-49 has been referred to the appropriations committee (as of press time for the April edition of the Osage News) to face further consideration and potential amendments by the committee. The committee sends it to the full Congress for its consideration – contingent upon majority approval of the committee.