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Cuts threaten education and clean water for S.D. reservations

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WASHINGTON - The Bush Administration tax cuts also translated to budget cuts for many South Dakota water projects. One the largest projects in the world would affect clean water on two of the state's reservations and it is seen as a retaliatory move by Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

Per student funding for tribal colleges, health, infrastructure development and law enforcement are all expected to have budget cuts for fiscal year 2004.

Tribal leaders that spoke with Sen. Daschle on Feb. 7 during a conference call were most interested in the proposed budget that came from the administration.

On Feb. 7, Daschle told reporters during a teleconference that the budget cuts by the Bush administration were "reckless" and that the cuts that affected South Dakota may be intentional.

"I don't know if they are trying to punish our state or they just believe that nobody is going to care about the cuts in the magnitude we are talking about," Senator Daschle said.

The Democrats, led by Sen. Daschle, have been critical of the administration's economic stimulus package that offers tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and does little to expand employment opportunities.

Daschle also was instrumental in helping Sen. Tim Johnson win re-election in South Dakota with the assistance of a large voter turnout in Indian country. The 2002 election was seen as contest between President Bush and Sen. Daschle as Bush supported Johnson's opponent former Representative John Thune.

"I believe that this may be the single most reckless federal budget any president has ever proposed. It's reckless in part because it devastates our fiscal balance.

"We have done in two years from a $5.5 trillion surplus to a $2 trillion new deficit over and above the $3 trillion that already existed," Daschle said.

He blames the huge deficit swing on the large tax cuts the Bush Administration has proposed and enacted over the past two years. The cuts, Daschle said are affecting the ability to commit resources to investments needed for Indian country.

"It is very troubling and disconcerting and I will pledge an all-out effort to change the course of this budget as it is debated and ultimately debated and enacted in the coming months on the Senate floor," he said.

He called the rhetoric and action of reality a credibility gap within the Bush Administration and that this would affect the future of an Indian country that is in great need of infrastructure improvements, economic development and advancements in the health and education system.

"The most reckless budget that we've seen lays bare the credibility gap that we've seen in this administration. They say they are for education, but they cut its resources; they say they are for health care, but they cut the resources; they say they are for investment in infrastructure and better law enforcement, but they cut the resources.

"There is a growing credibility gap that I believe is going to continue to be more and more apparent as people look at the difference between the rhetoric and the reality of this president and his administration," Daschle said.

In President Bush's campaign speeches he said he would provide $100 million for education in Indian country to provide new and updated class rooms and his 'Leave no Child Behind' campaign was passed by Congress, signed into law, yet lawmakers and educators complain that funding is not available to carry out the mandates of the law, especially in Indian country.

"This goes beyond budget. It goes to the values that we hold as a country. I think we've always held the value that everybody ought to have access to a good public education. We have never been able to live up to that standard because I don't believe we've committed the resources to make sure that everybody has a good public education.

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"But that is the value we espouse in this country. Yet with every one of those budget cuts we shrink from our stated values and we fail the expectation of young people who only have one chance to get that good education, and that is when they are growing up," Daschle said.

For fiscal year 2004 the administration's budget cut funding for tribal colleges by 10 percent and funding for tribal colleges within the department of education was cut by 17 percent as compared to the fiscal year 2003 budget passed by the Senate. Congress has not passed the fiscal year 2003 budget and it now sits with a joint committee that is working out details of the comprehensive budget plan.

Tribal colleges are increasing enrollment, but at the level of funding from the federal government it will be difficult to maintain the current budget. The president's budget actually held an increase in spending for tribal colleges, but the per student allocation will actually be reduced with increased enrollment. Per student spending at tribal colleges is actually one-half that of other colleges that receive federal funding.

"You hear every politician talk about education, but the problem is only a percentage of them are willing to commit the resources to match the rhetoric.

"The tribal college movement has been one of our most successful efforts to prepare Indian youth to tackle the problems confronting their communities, yet President Bush slashed funding in this key area. Schools should not be expected to deal with rising enrollments with significantly less funding," Daschle said.

Water problems in South Dakota

One of the major cuts by the Bush Administration affected the largest water project in the world, Mni Wiconi. The fiscal year 2003 Senate version of the Omnibus Appropriations Bill gave Mni Wiconi $30 million dollars. The project will supply clean, necessary drinking water from the Missouri River and distribute it to many of South Dakota's western counties and two of the reservations in the state, Rosebud and Pine Ridge.

Many people on those reservations suffer from contaminated drinking water or have no running water at all. Complaints come in from Red Shirt Table on the Pine Ridge Reservation that the water actually glows in the dark.

The president's fiscal year 2004 budget cuts $34 million or 80 percent from the Mni Wiconi and other water projects in South Dakota. This will place Mni Wiconi in jeopardy or in the least add millions of dollars to the actual cost of the project as those costs increase in future years, and delay the project's completion.

Anita Ecoffey, acting project director for Mni Wiconi said the budget cuts would doom the project. She added that it was a major violation of treaty rights of the Rosebud and Oglala Sioux tribes. She said the Oglala Sioux Tribe was ready to fight the budget cut.

"Now, why we would give a millionaire an $89,000 tax cut when we have all these priorities is something I can't understand. So, I think (President Bush) more interested in placating those at the top because they are the ones that got him elected," Daschle said.

Trust Reform

When trust reform is mentioned Daschle has no confidence in the present administration's willingness to solve the problem.

"I don't think the administration has ever gotten serious about fixing the trust problem. I think what the administration has done is so inconsequential and so misdirected that I believe it does more harm than good," he said.

Many Congressional leaders are behind the tribes when it comes to meaningful trust reform and most claim, as do many tribal leaders, that it will take congressional action to bring the Department of Interior and BIA into a cooperative effort that will reform trust management and bring about standards that the federal government will have to live by.

"There are some Republicans who are willing to be forcefully engaged, John McCain and others, and hope we can continue to impress upon this administration how critical this is.

"There are two major priorities, it seems to me. One is budget and the other is trust reform as we look to Indian country agenda. That isn't to minimize, of course, education and health care and law enforcement. But, trust reform is such an overriding need that in part of the country on virtually every reservation that it can't come soon enough," Daschle said.