There is a crisis in the State of Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Legislature is struggling to come to terms with what its job is to fund Oklahoma Education. Certainly they are feeling the stress now in the second week of the Oklahoma Teacher Walkout, and in that there are some key indicators coming to light about what the Oklahoma Legislature hopes to leverage to solve their budget crisis in the near future. Spoiler alert – its Tribal Gaming.
Certain Oklahoma State Legislators have not been hiding it. Heard publicly at a local Lions Club meeting, Oklahoma Representative Steve Vaughan (Oklahoma District 37) said that he felt Oklahoma Native Nations should pay MORE to the State of Oklahoma. For those who are more fully aware of Oklahoma’s Tribal Gaming, the massive positive impact it has on the State, and those who have taken the time to understand what Oklahoma’s Tribal Governments have done over and above their standing contributions and compacts with the State – this is a shocking statement. Yet, its not the only one.
In a Tulsa World article update on April 6, 2018, Oklahoma Senate leadership made themselves very clear.
Majority Floor Leader Sen. Greg Treat debated against the ball and dice bill, saying “I’m very dissatisfied with the way the executive branch have negotiated gaming compacts with the tribes .. I feel the state has been shorted.”
(Tulsa World, “Update: OEA calls for veto of hotel/motel tax repeal, vote on capital gains tax exemption”, http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/government/update-oklahoma-senate-passes-ball-and-dice-bill-to-bring/article_75fedcde-762f-5a21-95cd-b25b6673d2fe.html)
Such sentiment is important to note. The gaming compacts that the State of Oklahoma has made with Oklahoma’s Tribal Governments will be potentially up in January 2020. The above statements such as Oklahoma State Representative Steve Vaughan, and by the Majority Floor Leader and Senator Greg Treat, are certainly concerning as it lays a foundation of question – even though, as sovereign nations, the Tribal Governments work directly with the Governor of Oklahoma. That said, within the currently chaotic Oklahoma political climate and with what is being said, this is a critical indicator for an event that is now less than two years away.
Caught within their own self inflicted budget woes, the Oklahoma Legislature attempts to change the narrative in the public’s eye by sowing seeds of discontent among Oklahoma residents. While the actual facts tell a very different story – these efforts are nothing less than dangerous for Native America and Oklahoma. It is so concerning, the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association (OIGA) issued a news release on April 6, 2018 to provide facts to new stories, social media, and seemingly to balance the “fake news” being spread by certain Oklahoma Legislators.
It is also important to note that when Tribal Gaming was introduced in 2004’s State Question 712, the State estimated it would bring in an additional $70 Million a year which could in turn be used to benefit Oklahoma Education. Of course, in that first year of gaming, Tribal Governments paid in over $133 Million dollars, fully exceeding and almost doubling what the State expected in revenue. As OIGA points out in the years since, Tribal Gaming has paid in over $1.2 Billion of revenue from Tribal Gaming (https://oiga.org/news/oklahoma-indian-gaming-association-offers-accurate-tribal-gaming-information/). Further, the positive economic impact to the State of Oklahoma because of Tribal Gaming has been over $7.2 Billion – all of which has provided further methods of revenue for the State as well as Local governments through sales taxes. Of course, Native Nations citizen’s also pay federal income tax, FICA taxes, social security taxes, and state income and property taxes for all who are residing outside of federally recognized reservations.
Yet Tribal Governments do so much more. Tribal Gaming net revenue for Native Nations can only be used for one of five purposes – funding Tribal Government operations or programs; providing general welfare to the tribe and its members; promotion of Tribal economic development; donating to charitable organizations, and funding operations of local government agencies. While these might specify what you’d expect Tribal Governments to only contribute to, in reality Tribal Governments do so much more.
One example is the Cherokee Nation. It’s only been just over a month ago, on March 2, 2018, when the Cherokee Nation provided $5.2 Million to 108 different Oklahoma Public Schools. In an article in the Cherokee Phoenix on March 6, 2018,
‘Many public schools face budget cuts, and the tribe’s allocation helps alleviate shortages, CN officials said.
“A lot of the schools are able to maybe fund a teacher position that they had to let go or purchase a bus. Some of them have purchased athletic equipment. So they do lots of things they don’t have funding in their budget for, and this allows them to do whatever they need for their school because there are no earmarks on that money,” Sharon Swepston, CN Tax Commission administrator, said.’ (Cherokee Phoenix,”Cherokee Nation gives $5.4M to 108 public schools” , http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Article/index/12046)
The revenue the Cherokee Nation provides to Public Schools doesn’t come from Tribal Gaming. Instead, it comes from a portion of the Cherokee Nation’s jurisdictional motor vehicle tax revenue. The Cherokee Nation does this to support their citizens who live in Oklahoma, who attend Oklahoma schools as students and their families, and because Cherokee Nation citizens are also among the teaching staff residing in Oklahoma counties. The Cherokee Nation isn’t the only Tribal Government who does this, but Oklahoma State Legislators seem woefully unaware of the benefits being provided with the State to fill the gaps they’ve inflicted in ten years of cuts to Oklahoma Education.
In the article above, Kenwood School Superintendent Billy Taylor says. “We depend on state funding, but it decreases all the time. So any little thing we get helps us a great deal, probably more important to us than the average school here. Most schools have a tax base greater than us.”
As with other schools, this Delaware County school finds the investment of Tribal dollars to support them to be critical in the shortfall from funding from the State. The article noted above also relates Superintendent Taylor’s appreciation, “He said school officials are appreciative of the tribe’s impact. He said the money is put into a general fund for school operations and teacher pay.”
Fourteen Oklahoma Counties are positively impacted for the 108 Public Schools, the largest with over a million dollars being awarded to Tulsa County. Since before Tribal Gaming, in 2002, the Cherokee Nation has provided over $50 Million in funding to its area Oklahoma Public Schools.
In the above Tulsa World article, State Senator Nathan Dahm had hoped to introduce an amendment to table legislation to fund Oklahoma Education with additional Tribal Gaming until a way could be determined that would change gaming compacts so that Tribal Governments pay much more than they do today. While his amendments were not heard at that time, it is clear where the narrow focus is for many Oklahoma legislators.
This is why the Cherokee Nation decided to speak out. In a Channel 9 News article updated April 4, 2018, the Cherokee Nation Secretary of State, Chuck Hoskin, offers an example for the Oklahoma Legislature saying, “Frankly, if the state would look to the tribes for leadership, if they would follow our example, this state would be in better shape,”
(News9.com,”Cherokee Nation Speaks Out Amid Questions About Gaming Funds For Education” , http://www.news9.com/story/37883421/cherokee-nation-speaks-out-amid-questions-about-gaming-funds-for-education)
This comment requires more context to be fully understood. Tribal Government and Tribal Gaming is well reported and explicitly tracked. There is absolute full transparency in regards to the Tribal Gaming funds that are paid to the State of Oklahoma for Education. This contrasts with no reports by the State of Oklahoma as to how those funds are then spent by the State. No reports, and no transparency. Its a topic that has come up before with the Oklahoma Legislature and the Governor only to be set aside. The reality is that no one fully knows how Educational funding, while collected, is actually spent. With no transparency, there can be no accountability of where the money is going.
Such is the purpose of the Native America SuperPAC. With the upcoming 2018 election, it is the single best opportunity to hold Oklahoma State Senators and Representatives accountable. Such transparency is not only needed, it is difficult to imagine exactly why it simply wouldn’t be provided. Further, casting aspersions upon Tribal Gaming to distract the “public eye” away from the root issues of the Oklahoma Educational budget crisis is playing a game that Oklahoma Legislators have won before and expect to again.
…but there is a difference today.
The Native America SuperPAC is watching. Closely. Tribal Gaming is NOT a solution for the Oklahoma Legislature’s budget woes. It is time to have a voice that politicians understand. If you lend yours and support the Native America SuperPAC, we can make a difference this year, in this election!
Native America SuperPAC is NON-PARTISAN and Native First. Donate today. We are stronger together!
Or you can mail a check made out to Native America Action to:
Native America Action
1611 S Utica Ave
Tulsa, Ok, 74104