Senator skeptical about budget

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WASHINGTON - South Dakota Democratic Senator Tim Johnson said he is
skeptical about any real changes in funding for Indian country in the
president's 2006 budget.

Based on past history of reduced funding and not meeting the cost of living
increase for health care, trust reform, housing, law enforcement and other
programs for Indian country, Sen. Johnson said, "I am concerned about the
president's budget cutting into Indian issues. There are several concerns
there will be outright cuts. If the president doesn't cut he doesn't keep
up with inflation. The president calls for modest increases but we get
further and further behind."

Johnson had not seen the upcoming budget proposal but said he would
scrutinize it carefully based on past experiences. He added that President
Bush's budgets have not been friendly to the interests of Indian country.

"We face some challenges in terms of Pres. Bush's priorities, but I think
that we will have universal support from the Democrats in Congress and I
hope we can find enough Republican support so we can get some of this
legislation over the hump and onto the president's desk.

"It's going to be a high priority of mine."

IHS, for example is funded at one half of what it should be, Sen. Johnson
said.

In a recent gathering of tribal leaders with Sen. Johnson and Congresswoman
Stephanie Herseth, D-S.D. law enforcement was the main topic. During this
session Sen. Johnson said there would be some work in Congress that would
address what many in law enforcement said were problems due to a lack of
funding.

"A lot of the problems we have in law enforcement have to do with budget
and so that doesn't call for new legislation, it means the programs we have
need to be funded at a decent level.

"We don't have enough police officers on large stretches of land, we don't
have the training money, we don't have the technology money, we don't have
the vehicles and frankly we don't have courtroom space, much less jail
space, and detention space that many of our tribes need. And once you have
that you have to staff it and all of that involves money."

In some instances in the Great Plains and around the country there is a
shortage of prosecutors, so, there is a lot of catching up to do, Johnson
said.

He added that it is time to put the money where the mouth is. Law and order
can't happen without reasonable funding to provide the high level of
training that is required to make all the programs work.

Homeland security may provide a stream of revenue for tribes, Sen. Johnson
said. Direct work with the Gila River Tribe, he said, brought about funding
to the tribe. Language was successful in the Homeland Security area on the
House side, but did not make it through the Senate, Johnson said.

"Tribes should not have to go with hat in hand, to the state capitols.
Tribes are sovereign nations, this ought to be direct funding and we ought
to make that happen," Johnson said.

"With every legislative vehicle that moves through Congress, it is my
belief that the question must be raised: What about the Indian component so
that Indian country receives fair treatment," he said.

Sen. Johnson is a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the
Appropriations Committee and also sits on the budget sub-committee.

He said during a press conference, that he has directed his staff to seek
out ideas related to various issues that will come before Congress and get
input from tribal leadership.

Special consideration for economic development tax breaks and parity with
municipalities will be part of what Sen. Johnson said he will work to renew
as part of legislation he introduced in the last session.

A reauthorization of an American Indian employment tax credit, language
permitting a new assessment of eligibility of New Market Tax Credits has
been discussed and Johnson said he would include that this session.

He said a tax package will be "shaping up" this year and he would press
forward with some of the tribal tax parity issues that will benefit
economic development in Indian country.

Johnson has been in the front of a bill that would allow for school bonding
for the purpose of new school construction and older school repairs. A
priority in Indian country is Head Start and Native language programs, both
of which Johnson said he will work for in the funding mechanism.

"I'm still seeking input and feedback, but I am anxious to introduce an
Indian education package early in the 109th [Congress]," he said.

"I will be encouraging the Indian Affairs Committee to hold hearings on
Indian education pertaining to my legislation and the need to keep the
office of Indian Education Policy accountable," Johnson said.

The new chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee will be Sen. John McCain,
R-Ariz. And the vice chairman is Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. Johnson said he was
anxiously waiting to work with them to make sure the South Dakota agenda is
a priority.

With trust reform, Johnson was involved in legislation that was introduced
in the past Congress. He, along with Senators Tom Daschle and McCain,
introduced the bill and it is expected that McCain will take this bill
forward to force trust reform.

"I will be engaged in any trust reform initiatives brought forward in the
109th; after all, the Great Plains region is uniquely affected, mostly
because of the vast amount of trust land located in our region," Johnson
said.