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Congress passes emergency appropriation bill, Chief Gray says he’ll sign it

Osage Nation Principal Chief Jim Gray speaks during the 22nd Special Session of Congress on Nov. 30. Photo by Chalene Toehay/Osage News

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Osage Nation Congress has passed another emergency appropriation bill to keep the Nation’s government operating until Jan. 30 or if a 2010 fiscal year budget is decided before then. It’s a bill Principal Chief Jim Gray said Monday he intends to sign, amid its one-twelfth monthly spending restriction which he says has affected some government operations.

“The Executive Branch cannot function properly and provide government services until you fulfill your constitutional duty to pass an annual appropriation of operating funds,” Gray told Congress when it reconvened for its 22nd Special Session on Monday morning. “Continuing to function at 2009 funding levels is not sufficient for programs such as Social Services, WIC or for the scholarship program,” he added.

“We’re going to have to make a decision – a decision that will have a bearing on our people, our family members… all of those who work here at the Osage Nation that provide services,” Speaker Archie Mason told his congressional colleagues during Monday’s session. “They are your day-to-day employees. This is Christmas, this is December and I know each and every one of you, like me, do not want them to be in a position of doubt, regards to their job, security, those kinds of things that affect you.”

Congress passed ONCA 10-17, sponsored by Mason, with a unanimous 11-0 vote following discussion, debate and an amendment to the bill’s deadline on Monday afternoon. It will act as another “Band-aid” or “temporary solution” – as several government officials have called it – to keep the Executive Branch and its tribal departments operating as Gray and Mason’s branches focus on reaching a solution to the FY 2010 budget impasse before the Jan. 30 deadline.

Two congressional Special Sessions have passed since the 2009 Tzi-Zho Session in which congressional members set the next fiscal year’s budget. But the executive and legislative branches have been at odds over several concerns such as late-arriving budget items; requests for more information on selected budget lines; and the Nation’s projected 2010 revenue which impacts the amount Congress appropriates for budgetary spending.

In a Nov. 23 online statement, Gray said he pocket vetoed two “flawed” emergency appropriation bills passed by Congress before the 21st Special Session ended Nov. 17. At issue in these prior emergency appropriation bills is the restriction mandating tribal departments to continue operating with a monthly one-twelfth spending cap.

Although Mason’s bill calls for emergency appropriations to continue with the one-twelfth spending restriction until Jan. 30, Gray said he would sign it amid his concerns with it hampering some government operations with expenditures surpassing the one-twelfth limit.

“When that continuing resolution comes over here, I will sign it because right now that needs to happen,” Gray said during an all-employees meeting held after Congress approved Mason’s bill. “I’m still going to be out there publicly demanding that they come back to work and finish their job because the continuing resolution is only a Band-aid.”

Congressman Raymond Red Corn noted construction/ maintenance spending as an example of one item impacted by the one-twelfth spending restriction in a November electronic newsletter.

“Any construction contracts, such as those improving Senior Housing, will be put on hold unless the contract equals one-twelfth of the line item for that improvement,” Red Corn wrote. In the proposed 2010 budget, the housing department is requesting a total of $87,500 to replace carpeting and tubs/showers in the Senior Housing units.

Congressman Doug Revard, who supports the one-twelfth spending restriction, has said it is being used to keep the Executive Branch in contact with Congress to continue reaching a solution to the budget debate.

Also at issue in the budget impasse is the Nation’s projected revenue which is $27 million – an amount that is $6 million higher than the previous budget which has been reduced from $33 million. According to the Osage Nation Constitution, the Congress cannot appropriate more than the next year’s projected revenue.

Gray and Executive Branch officials have trimmed $3 million from the budget, so it now sits at $30 million and is up for consideration next week. “I am confident that by working together we can resolve any outstanding differences and get the budget passed in the timeframe allowed for this Special Session,” Gray said.

The Congressional Education Committee meets immediately following the Dec. 7 Congressional session and the Government Operations Committee meets at 1 p.m. Dec. 8 with the budgets on both meeting agendas.