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Proposed budget and wage increase reflects Cherokee Nation’s prosperity

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – When fiscal year 2007 begins on Oct. 1, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma Tribal Council will consider Principal Chief Chad Smith’s annual budget proposal, the largest proposed budget in the tribe’s history. The bulk of the budget, which totals some $350 million, is earmarked for service programs for the tribe’s citizenry.

“What is most impressive,” Smith pointed out, “is that our largest growth this year comes from revenue we generate ourselves from our businesses.” Five years ago, tribal revenues supported 11 percent of the nation’s budget. The revenues upon which the proposed 2007 budget draws, however, now represent about 24 percent of the total amount of funding.

Included in the budget are significant funds for higher education, health, housing and road construction. Plans include more than $113 million for health care, with an additional $1 million designated for cancer patients. The portion allotted for housing and community services totals nearly $78 million, and $30 million is set aside for education. $30 million is proposed for child development and $1 million has been included to help fight methamphetamine addiction in the area.

“We are becoming more self-sufficient while creating jobs for our citizens in our home communities,” Smith added.

The budget proposal, which symbolizes an era of marked prosperity and growth for the tribal nation, comes on the heels of the tribal council’s affirmative vote to raise the minimum wages paid at tribally owned businesses from $5.15 per hour, the current state and federal minimum wage, to $8 per hour.

The projected cost of raising the wage could exceed $1 million per year, an estimate that alarmed some council members and sparked heated debate. Although all the council members supported the concept, the proposal passed by a narrow margin as many believed the full impact of the suggested increase needed more study.