posted by Larry Kibbey
Washington, D.C. - The U.S. Senate killed Slade Gorton's rider to the 1998 appropriations bill which would have forced tribes to waive their sovereign immunity in order to receive federal funds.
While senators voted against the measure Sept. 16, another rider for means testing remained in the budget plan.
The waiver rider was attached to the Interior Department's budget proposal and would have required tribes to give up immunity in order to qualify for federal moneys the use to fund the lions share of their yearly budgets.
Instead of dropping the means testing provisions, senators agreed to make changes in the language of the budget amendment.
The money is used to fund tribal government programs and services for things such as roads, schools and housing.
Tribal members who lobbied against the rider said the measure would punish tribes for successful economic development efforts.
U.S. Senator Tim Johnson, D-SD., who was in Rapid City over the week-end, said he viewed the rider as yet another attempt to tax the tribes. "This is really a back door way of taxing American Indian enterprises," he said.
Tribal leaders said the measure was pushed because of the misconception that tribes across the nation are growing rich from gaming.
"There are relatively few tribes that are doing that well. By and large almost all tribes have huge backlogs of infrastructure and job creation projects at hand," the senator said.
"The whole notion of means testing ignores the reality of treaty obligation. The funding for tribes isn't some other social program. It is compensation for land that was lost and treaty obligations. It can't be treated in the same vein as other federal expenditures that are merely discretionary programs," he said.
"This isn't consistent with treaty obligation," Sen. Jonson said.