(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) delivered a speech today to the National Indian Gaming Association in which she spoke of her strong support for economic growth in Indian Country. Murray has been a staunch supporter of legislation that affords Native Americans their right to economic self-determination, and has consistently voted for legislation that increases federal funding for tribes.
Murray has also criticized the Administration's most recent budget, which she says under-funds Indian needs and will likely result in the cutting of benefits including education and healthcare. Citing a report titled A Quiet Crisis: Federal Funding and Unmet Needs in Indian Country, which was issued to the Administration by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in July of 2003, Murray said that the President's budget shortchanges a glaring shortfall in resources. This is true, she said, even in areas where modest increases are proposed in the budget.
"As a member of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committees I know that insufficient increases are effectively cuts. And the impact is felt in tribal hospitals and clinics, in classrooms, and in tribal services," Murray said. "This is movement in the wrong direction. We should be increasing funding, so we can create jobs and expand services. And, when you add in inflation, the ever-growing needs, and the fact that we are so far behind in our obligations, it becomes even clearer the President’s budget is bad news for Indian Country."
Senator Murray was introduced by introduced by tribal leaders from Washington state, including NIGA Washington state Chairman Greg Abrahamson, Councilmembers Warren Seyler and David Wynecoop of the Spokane Tribe, and Councilmembers Lou Anderson and Jeanne Jarred from the Colville Confederated Tribes.
Murray has proposed and co-sponsored legislation that will increase access to the Internet in tribal communities. Last year, Murray introduced the Community Telecommunications Planning Act, which would use grants to help tribal governments develop plans to bring high-speed Internet access to their communities. She has also co-sponsored Senator Daniel Inouye's (D-HI) Native American Connectivity Act.
"We know that a gap in access is a gap in opportunity," Murray said.
Senator Murray's remarks follow:
I’m honored to be here this morning. I’d like to extend a special welcome to the tribal leaders attending from Washington state Chairman Greg Abrahamson, who is joined by Councilmembers Warren Seyler and David Wynecoop of the Spokane Tribe, and also Councilmembers Lou Anderson and Jeanne Jarred from the Colville Confederated Tribes.
And I'd also like to thank my legislative aide Casey Sixkiller. Casey, I know you've worked so hard and with such a passion on tribal issues. The tribes have a strong and knowledgeable advocate in you – and so do I.
I’m excited to see so many of you here today. Your timing could not be better. As of today, there are 26 legislative days remaining in this session of Congress, that’s 26 days to finish all 13 appropriations bills; 26 days to finish work on legislation like the JOBS bill that would benefit tribal businesses and create new opportunities throughout Indian Country; and 26 days to pass a number of other desperately needed measures, like the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which has gone too long without being reauthorized.
So it’s good that you’re here today. Your Senators and Representatives need to hear from you. They need to know about how our work impacts your communities and your businesses, and what our priorities should be. Over the past year, I’ve spoken with many tribal leaders from my state about the report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that documented the unmet needs in Indian Country. The Commission’s report confirmed what so many of us already knew: that the federal government has not upheld its trust responsibility with adequate funding for tribal programs and services.
That report sent a clear message to everyone here in Washington, D.C.: It's time to fund tribal needs. But when the President sent us his budget in February, it was clear he didn't get the message. On issue after issue, the President’s budget came up short. And that's why we need you here, showing your elected representatives what's at stake.
As a member of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committees I know that insufficient increases are effectively cuts. And the impact is felt in tribal hospitals and clinics, in classrooms, and in tribal services. On Monday, the Lummi Nation in Washington state announced that it was forecasting a $1.9 million deficit this year for its healthcare programs. The tribal leadership cites rising costs and stagnant federal funding for the shortfall. The tribe will now be forced to cut jobs and possibly services.
This is movement in the wrong direction. We should be increasing funding, so we can create jobs and expand services. And, when you add in inflation, the ever-growing needs, and the fact that we are so far behind in our obligations, it becomes even clearer the President’s budget is bad news for Indian Country.
I know you deserve better. And as a member of the Appropriations Committee, I will continue to fight to see that you have the resources necessary to meet the needs of your communities.
Since coming to the Senate in 1992, I’ve been proud to work with all of you to give tribal governments and enterprises the tools they need to succeed. That means increasing your access to grants and federal loan programs, supporting directed tax credits, and other incentives to promote economic development in tribal communities.
As the senior Democrat on the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, I’m proud that over the years I’ve been able to secure transportation funding for tribes in my state and support efforts to increase funding for the Indian Reservation Roads program. Improvements in transportation and infrastructure are critical for economic development in tribal communities and rural areas.
But we can do more. That’s why I’m a cosponsor of the Senate JOBS bill. This legislation includes a number of tribal provisions, like giving tribes the authority to issue tax-exempt bonds. The bill has already passed the Senate, but we need to keep the pressure on lawmakers to see that it is signed into law this year.
Another area we need to address is the growing digital divide in tribal communities and other underserved areas. We know that a gap in access is a gap in opportunity. So, last year, I introduced the Community Telecommunication Planning Act. My bill would establish planning and market development grants to help local and tribal governments, and other public groups, develop effective, local plans to bring high-speed Internet access to their areas.
Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who has been a champion on so many issues, recently introduced the Native American Connectivity Act, and I was happy to join him as a cosponsor. Taken together, these two bills – mine and Senator Inouye's – will enable tribal and rural areas to tap into the potential of the information economy. I look forward to working with Senator Inouye to move his important legislation forward.
So as Congress nears the end of this session, it’s important that we complete our work on bills that strengthen tribal enterprises and create new opportunities for tribal people across the country.
Finally, I want to thank you for all the work you do to promote economic development in Indian Country – and I want to congratulate you on your success. I’ve seen the impact you’re having. Throughout my state, Tribal businesses are transforming their communities. You're helping tribes to expand their services to tribal members, invest in real estate and natural resources, and bring new wholesale and retail options to underserved areas.
Tribal businesses are putting people to work. My state has the one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, but because of your work tribal businesses are creating good-paying jobs in rural areas and tribal communities.
I also know that the benefits of your success extend far beyond your boundaries. In Washington state, tribal businesses contribute more than $1 billion to the state’s economy every year. Throughout my state, revenues from Indian businesses are being reinvested in local communities to support everything from parks, to roads, to schools, to museums. So, for many tribes, the years since Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act have been nothing short of remarkable. It's brought new opportunities and new jobs to tribal communities.
But at the same time, I know your success has given rise to some who want to restrict your ability to exercise your rights as sovereign governments. I want you to know that I think they’re wrong, and I will continue to support you and your efforts to improve the lives of your tribal members and build better futures in your communities.
So thank you for bringing economic development to your communities and beyond. And thank you for coming to Washington, D.C. to stand up for your tribal members back home. I’m proud to be your partner here in the United States Senate, and I know that by working together, we ensure that tribes get the respect and the support they deserve.