May 17, 2017 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff WriterWyoming legislators, government officials and local residents will discuss the future of the state's tribal liaison program during a meeting of the Select Committee on Tribal Relations next week in Lander.
Funding for tribal liaisons was cut in half during the legislative session earlier this year, despite multiple attempts by local legislators to keep it intact.
Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, who has been a member of the tribal relations committee since 2002 and has served as chairman of the group since 2007, tried twice during the session to restore funding for the tribal liaisons.
'A real tragedy'
He said the reduction was "a mistake on the part of the Legislature" that will put an end to the tribal liaison program, at least for now.
"It may be in hiatus a couple years, which is a real tragedy," Case said. "People don't understand the millions of dollars at stake between the reservation and the state."
During the session he talked to his fellow senators about the severance taxes Wyoming assesses on minerals produced from tribal lands. By contrast, he said, the money allocated to the tribal liaison program is "small change."
"It was weird," he said he said of the decision to cut the funding in half. "(It was) some misguided work ... over a very little amount of money in the big picture."
The Joint Appropriations Committee appropriated $80,000 of general fund money to the positions this year instead of another $190,000, or the $160,000 Gov. Matt Mead requested in his supplemental budget proposal.
Last year, the JAC agreed to fund the program at $190,000 for fiscal year 2017 but held off on funding for fiscal year 2018 pending a progress report on revenues the following winter.
The money is used for salaries, benefits, travel expenses and office space.
The budget cut leaves several options open for the program:
• There could be one tribal liaison for the state rather than two.
• Two liaisons could be appointed on a part-time basis.
• The tribes could cover the remainder of the cost for two full-time liaisons.
• The program could be abandoned altogether.
Speaking on the floor of the Wyoming Senate, Case said the financial burden was shared with the tribes in the past, with poor results.
"It becomes unclear who works for whom," Case said. "(And there are) unnecessary arguments about expenditures. ... I don't recommend that."
He also wouldn't advocate for part-time liaisons.
"It's definitely a full-time job, (and) there's plenty of work to do for two people," Case said.
The liaisons are meant to be employees of Gov. Matt Mead, though Sergio Maldonado, who resigned in February from his post as Northern Arapaho tribal liaison, said it is difficult for tribal members not to advocate for their own people.
The other liaison, Eastern Shoshone enrolled member Leslie Shakespeare, also has submitted his resignation, although he has agree to stay on while a replacement is found.
Maldonado thought the liaison program worked best when the tribes paid into it, but he also said it's possible that the program could be discontinued.
"Maybe we reached that threshold where having this position is no longer necessary, from a political perspective," he said, adding, "but (it's) absolutely necessary from a cultural, historical perspective."
Discussion of the tribal liaison program is scheduled for noon Monday, May 22, at the Inn at Lander, 260 Grandview Drive.
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