Bush cuts Interior budget
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MARCH 1, 2001

Confirming the predictions of conservation groups and the fears of government employees, the fiscal year 2002 budget at the Department of Interior received a 4 percent cut in the blueprint President George W. Bush released on Wednesday.

But the administration attempted to put a positive spin on the issue by comparing it to the 2000 budget. Yesterday's $9.8 billion figure represents a 15 percent increase from 2000, they said.

And although the proposed budget for 2002 falls $200 million short of its core operation costs of $10 billion, the administration -- including Secretary Gale Norton -- said the Department will still be able to meet its primary goals. The elimination of completed projects and one-time emergency costs, such as funds spent fighting last summers's devastating wildfires, saved the Interior about $400 million alone, they said.

Still, tribal leaders hoping for a repeat of last year probably won't be pleased. Both the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Indian Health Service (IHS) received their largest spending boosts in history under a budget advanced by the Clinton administration last year.

At the same time, the Department is seeing 5 percent annual growth and the 2002 falls short of this projection. It also falls short of the baseline $10.1 billion figure prepared by the Clinton administration.

Bush lived up to his campaign promise of fixing Indian schools, but only in words and with the help of Clinton. As Norton stated in her testimony before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs yesterday, money to replace seven schools has already been appropriated.

"The Congress appropriated $292 million, or an additional $159 million, to make a significant start in addressing this problem in fiscal year 2001," said Norton. "We will immediately provide $136 million to replace seven schools. However, we have much more to do."

Bush and Norton are proposing to eliminate the backlog of school repairs by 2006. To meet Bush's original promise of about $1 billion, some $800 million will have to be appropriated over the next five years, with priority going to the schools most in need.

There are currently 20 schools on the BIA's priority list. The schools needing replacement are: Tuba City Boarding School on the Navajo Nation in Arizona; Second Mesa Day School on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona; Zia Day School at Zia Pueblo, New Mexico; Baca/Thoreau (Dlo'ay Azhi) Consolidated Community School on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico; Lummi Tribal School in Bellingham, Washington; Wingate Elementary School in Wingate, New Mexico; and Polacca Day School on the Hopi Reservation.

The Bush budget calls on implementing a number of recent Indian land and water settlements in California, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, and Utah. It also includes funds to study oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The budget also increases funds available for trust reform. But Blackfeet Nation banker Elouise Cobell said the government could save a lot of money if they settled the billion dollar lawsuit she initiated on hehalf of 300,000 Indian account holders all over the country.

"If they continue to fight this, they are taxing taxpayer dollars to pay all the lawyers," said Cobell, the lead plaintiff. "They certainly can save money if they stopped."

More detailed amounts of the Interior and BIA budget are expected later this month. The final Bush budget will be released on April 3.

Get the Interior Budget Summary:
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR (The White House February 2001)

Get the Bush Blueprint:
A Blueprint For New Beginnings, A Responsible Budget for America's Priorities (The White House February 2001)

Get the Tribal School Priority List:
Tribal Schools on Priority List (Politics 2/16)

Relevant Links:
The Department of Interior -
The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs -

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Norton warns of Interior budget cuts (Politics 2/16)
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