The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee voted on Oct. 31 to approve grants for nine of the state's 11 tribes. Flags of the 11 Native American tribes of Wisconsin in the Wisconsin State Capitol. (Wisconsin Examiner photo)
Gov. Tony Evers urged the Joint Finance Committee on Monday to release funding for Tribal Assistance Grants after Republicans chose to exclude two tribes from recent funding approvals in part because of ongoing road disputes.
In September, the Department of Administration (DOA) submitted a request for transfer of $11 million to be distributed for the 2023-24 fiscal year to Wisconsin’s 11 tribes with each receiving $1 million. The money was appropriated in the 2023-25 budget and comes from tribal gaming revenues.
The committee voted on Oct. 31 along party lines to approve grants for nine of the state’s 11 tribes, excluding the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. A Democratic motion that would have fulfilled the DOA’s request was rejected by Republicans.
During the meeting, lawmakers did not comment on why the tribes weren’t included.
“The actions by Republicans on Joint Finance to withhold already-approved funds, which are paid for by Tribal gaming revenue, from two Tribes in Wisconsin without any justification or rationale flies in the face of our work to build strong, meaningful government-to-government partnerships with the Native Nations,” Evers said on Monday. “This is just yet another in a long list of examples of Republicans’ ongoing efforts to obstruct basic functions of government.”
Evers said that he directed the DOA to submit a formal request to the committee to release the $2 million in grants to the tribes.
“My request to Republicans is simple: stop playing politics with the Native Nations in this state and release these funds that are essential for Tribes to provide governmental services to their citizens and communities,” Evers said.
Leaders of the tribes have also urged lawmakers to take action to release the money, saying in a letter obtained by WPR that lawmakers are discriminating against the tribes. The tribes have also threatened legal action if nothing is done to “rectify this situation.”
JFC co-chairs Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) and Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) confirmed the reason in a statement to the Wisconsin Examiner on Monday. The lawmakers said the committee did not release the funds because the tribes have “taken adverse actions against their fellow Wisconsinites.”
“While we respect their autonomy as a tribe, we must also respect the taxpayers who are suffering as a result of the tribes’ decisions. They have prevented access to private properties, levied unreasonable fees on local municipalities, and are causing skyrocketing property taxes all due to their actions,” the lawmakers stated.
The lawmakers also noted that Evers signed off on the committee’s decision on November 10, 2023.
“[Evers] could have vetoed the minutes of the 13.10 meeting, but he didn’t. We don’t understand why he has suddenly changed course,” the lawmakers said.
Evers’ spokesperson Britt Cudaback said in an email to the Wisconsin Examiner that if Evers had vetoed the minutes, the committee would have overridden it since Republicans hold a 12-member majority on the 16-member committee. She said that would have resulted in the “literal same outcome as today but with additional delays—this skips that unnecessary step and presses the committee to approve the funds expeditiously, as our administration already requested.”
“Objecting to the minutes would’ve jeopardized funds for the Tribes who did rightfully receive the funds,” Cudaback said. “The governor’s priority is to get funds the Legislature already approved and appropriated out the door to people who need them, not sitting around and waiting for Republicans to exhaust every procedural step available to them to prevent basic functions of government. It’s called governing.”
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