Gaming Commission budget shortfall resolved; employee furloughs averted

Regulatory operations at the Osage Nation Gaming Commission are continuing as usual after the three-member Gaming Commission Board rescinded a resolution that called for employee furloughs if an operations budget shortfall was not resolved.

In March, the Gaming Commission Board voted to issue Resolution 17-02 declaring the shortfall in the 2017 fiscal year commission budget, which also stated: “Unless the budget issue is resolved prior to May 1, in order to meet this shortfall, ONGC will furlough one employee a week from each of the ONGC’s departments beginning on May 1” and the resolution also advised that gaming operations at the casinos would also be curtailed to maintain gaming law compliance.     

During the 2017 Hun-Kah Session, the Fifth ON Congress passed an appropriation bill (ONCA 17-57 sponsored by Congressman Ron Shaw) that modified several government division budgets, which included shifts in money, to make up for the Gaming Commission operations shortfall. The shifts addressed other department budget issues in addition to the shortfall with ONCA 17-57 passing on April 18.

Shaw called ONCA 17-57 a “multi-faceted bill” that makes budget amendments and supplemental amendments to five government divisions. Shaw said the bill also includes an adjustment to the Historic Preservation Office’s budget to reflect a $396,000 projected increase in its program revenue. For the Gaming Commission, Shaw said the Executive Branch located available government funds from other government programs to cover the shortfall.

The passed bill also includes $87,000 in new spending for training new facility monitors for the Primary Residential Treatment (PRT) program’s facility and an increase of $115,000 to the Environmental Natural Resources (ENR) Department for a recently awarded federal grant. The bill also covers a shortfall in the food distribution budget caused by an Executive Branch budgeting error for a matching grant expenditure and covers disallowed expenditures in the Communities of Excellence budget, which requires the Nation to pay those expenditures totaling $86,721 back to the grant agency, Shaw said.  

On April 24, Gaming Commission Board Chairwoman Marsha Harlan sent a letter to Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear and Congressional Speaker Angela Pratt to “express our sincerest gratitude for the hard and diligent work by both the Executive Branch’s staff and the members of Congress to resolve the shortfall within the Gaming Commission’s budget. With your hard work, we have been advised the Gaming Commission’s budget has been fully funded. Therefore, as of this afternoon, based in large part upon your efforts, we have rescinded ONGC Resolution 17-02, which provided for the furlough of Gaming Commission employees.”

In response to Resolution 17-02, Standing Bear issued a temporary freeze on Executive Branch expenditures including equipment purchases, non-essential employee travel, conferences and trainings, as well as new hires for most departments to identify the funds needed to cover the Gaming Commission shortfall. On April 26, Standing Bear issued an executive memorandum announcing: “The funds have been identified and placed within the Osage Nation Gaming Commission’s budget. The temporary freeze is hereby lifted.”