We want to wish everyone a very happy and prosperous new year, and hope to see you again in 2016 at conferences or here in Washington. The Congress has been very busy at the end of this year and proud of the fact it accomplished the passage of major highway and education bills that had lingered on the congressional agenda for months, and also approved a tax break and spending package, avoiding a government shutdown. Appears that Congress is working again. As Speaker Ryan recently was quoted. “We passed more major legislation in a few weeks than we have in a few years.” See my other recent blog post for details of the recent legislation that broke the congressional deadlock.
- For the Indian Health Service (IHS), the omnibus provides a total appropriation of $4.8 billion, a 3.6% increase over FY 2015 levels. This includes flat funding at $914 million for Purchased/Referred Care (formerly Contract Health Services) and $523 for Facilities, a $63 million increase. It also provides an additional $10 million to alcohol and substance abuse for a focus on Tribal youth, and an increase of $12.9 million for staffing.
- The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is funded at a total of $2.8 billion, a 7.5% increase over FY 2015 enacted. This includes $2.26 billion for the Operation of Indian Programs, a $161 million reduction compared to FY 2015, as well as $852 million for the Bureau of Indian Education. Notably, the bill also contains $138 million for school construction, an increase of $63.7 million, which should complete the 2004 replacement school construction list.
- For Contract Support Costs (CSC) at both BIA and IHS, the omnibus creates an indefinite appropriation using the language, “such sums as may be necessary,” rather than specific amounts. Tribes and Tribal organizations advocated for the CSC line item to be made mandatory on a permanent, indefinite basis in order to stabilize funding, protect funding appropriated to other line items, and help to avoid funding shortfalls. Though the omnibus does not make CSC mandatory, providing for an indefinite appropriation will allow the agencies to pay CSC in full, as required by the Supreme Court decision in Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter, as well as protect other line items in the budget and avoid shortfalls.
- In addition to the omnibus, Congress also passed a $680 million package to extend a number of critical tax provisions that have been expired since the end of 2014. Each of these tax credits is designed to encourage increased investment in projects within Indian Country, as well as increased jobs for Native people and indicate that greater tax reform is around the corner. These include:
the Interior Improvement Act
- Should money be found through user taxes like the gas tax or by taxing the number of miles driven?
- Can long term funding be found by bringing home billions of dollars in taxable income that corporations have stashed off shore?
- Should there be a turn away from a transportation only funding source such as a gas tax and instead toward using income and other taxes?
- Should money to pay for transit systems come from revenue collected mostly from drivers who pay taxes? Should tax collected from the same fee user fees be spent on bike and pedestrian needs?
- Tribal Transportation Program funding is increased each year.
- $465 million in FY 2016 and $10 million per year increases to $505 million in FY 2020 (Sec. 1101(a)(3).
- The USDOT tribal self-governance program is a new provision (Sec. 1121), there will be a negotiated rule-making for this new program.
- The Tribal Transit program is increased from $30 million to $35 million per year (with $30 million for the formula component of the Tribal Transit Program and $5 million for the discretionary competitive transit grant program under section 5311(c)(1) of title 49 (Sec. 3007(a)(1)(A) and (B) and 3016).
- A new $100 million per year grant program is established for “nationally significant” Federal Lands and tribal transportation projects (Sec. 1123).
- The Project Management and Oversight (PM&O) “takedown” for the BIA and FHWA is reduced from 6% to 5% (Sec. 1118).
- The Tribal Transportation Bridge Program takedown is increased from 2% to 3% (Sec. 1118).
- Provides tribal data collection reporting regarding the expenditure of Tribal Transportation Program funds under Section 202 of title 23 to the Secretary of the Interior (Sec. 1117(a)).
- Directs the Secretary of the Department of Transportation to report to Congress, after consulting with the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of DHHS, the Attorney General and Indian tribes, describing the quality of transportation safety data collected by States, counties, and tribes for transportation safety systems to improve the collection and sharing of data regarding crashes on Indian reservations (Sec. 1117(b)).
- Requires the Secretary of Transportation, after consultation with the Secretary of the Interior, the AG, States and Indian tribes, to provide a report to Congress within two years of enactment of the FAST Act that identifies and evaluates options to improve safety on public roads on Indian reservations (Sec. 1117(c)).