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Finance committee holds off again on approving tribal funds

The Republican-led Joint Finance Committee continued to withhold approval for the release of funds to the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa on Tuesday.

At the start of the committee meeting, co-chair Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) said that Sens. Mary Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk), Romaine Quinn (R-Cameron) and Rep. Chanz Green (R-Grand View) sent letters to the chairmen of the tribes in their districts.

“Before taking any action on this item, we want to allow this dialogue to take place,” Marklein said. 

Each of Wisconsin’s 11 tribes were allocated $1 million in funding in the 2023-25 state budget — money that comes from tribal gaming revenues. The committee approved the release of funds for nine of the state’s 11 tribes on October 31.

Shortly after the committee’s action, leaders of the two excluded tribes wrote a letter to the co-chairs of the committee urging them to release the funds and saying that lawmakers were discriminating against them. The tribes threatened legal action if nothing was done to rectify the situation.

On Nov. 20, Gov. Tony Evers called on lawmakers to release the funds to the tribes, saying that Republicans should “stop playing politics with the Native Nations in this state,” and should release the money that is “essential for Tribes to provide governmental services to their citizens and communities.” 

Lawmakers continue to hold off on approving the release of the funds citing  contentious, ongoing issues  that involve the tribes and local towns within the lawmakers’ jurisdiction.

The Lac du Flambeau tribe has been in a conflict since January with the town of Lac Du Flambeau over access to roads that go through the tribe’s land. In January, the tribe barricaded the roads and stopped non-tribal property owners from accessing or leaving their homes except to buy food and other essential items. Since then, the tribe has been charging the town for access to the roads. 

Felzkowski, writing to President John Johnson of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, said she took issue with how he chose to handle the situation and failed to “exhaust every possible avenue before taking the drastic and profound measures you took.” 

Felzkowski said she couldn’t speak to who had been a “bad actor” but all of that would be settled in court. 

“Good actors don’t give their neighbors 24 hours’ notice that they are barricading them in their homes. Good actors reevaluate their strategies when an elderly veteran is forced to wait 40 minutes for the barricades to be lifted so he can get to the hospital. Good leaders don’t cower to extremists who urge them to set aside reason and harm innocent parties,” Felzkowski added. 

Another dispute followed an August 2022 federal appeals court ruling that held that Wisconsin cannot force tribal members to pay property taxes on reservation lands. The decision left fewer residents to pay certain communities’ taxes.

Quinn and Green wrote in a letter to Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Chairman Robert Blanchard that constituents had contacted them about the “undue tax burden they now face and the uncertainty the decision has caused in their communities and relations with the tribe.”

The Town of Sanborn in Ashland County is uniquely affected by the decision, the lawmakers said, because it is located entirely within the Bad River Tribe reservation. According to WPR, the town lost 85% of its taxable property, leaving 15% to pay for the entire levy apportioned to Sanborn. 

Republican lawmakers included a provision in the 2023-25 budget that would have established some levy limits to prevent drastic tax increases, but it was vetoed by Evers. 

Quinn and Green said, however, that they find it troubling that as they were working on those potential steps to decrease the local tax burden, the tribe’s council proposed and approved a possessory interest tax upon non-tribal members who own property within the boundaries of the reservation. They said the plan and poor communication by tribal government caused more angst for the taxpayers. 

The lawmakers said in the letter that they are willing to discuss the situation with Blanchard and local officials to “ensure the viability of the affected local governments, for the well-being of all residents and to carry out the necessary work that our constituents expect.”

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originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2023%2F12%2F06%2Ffinance-committee-holds-off-again-on-approving-tribal-funds%2F by Baylor Spears

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