Dual Citizens on the Edge of the Fiscal Cliff
Tribal governments that disdain being “domestic, dependent nations” should prepare two budgets, similar to the “shadow governments” that opposition parties compose in a parliamentary system.
The Plan A budget would be the one expected. The Plan B budget would be if federal funds dried up like water on a hot rock, every dime. Excepting those perpetual payments required by treaties would not help very many tribes.
The Plan B budget is not a necessity, but it’s a political document that might cause people to ask where we stand if the Indian fighters ever get their way and tribes are reduced to voluntary associations with no special legal status? How many of us would volunteer?
Unions and clubs have dues and Indian tribes should collect taxes. Those few that do so normally tax non-citizens, which misses the point.
Should the U.S. hit the fiscal cliff set up to deter the gridlock in Washington, the BIA will take a hit along with a lot of government. I will complain, you will complain, but everybody will be hurting.
Leaving aside the BIA funding, there are expensive things I think the government should do. It should build out a smart electric grid and fix every bridge in the interstate highway system that has been tagged as unsafe. This would put a lot of people to work but it would also cost a lot of money.
I would pay for it by mothballing at least two carrier strike groups.
We currently field 11. No other nation has more than one. The nations that have one are, in alphabetical order: Brazil, France, Great Britain, India, Italy, Russia, Spain and Thailand. China is building one around an old Soviet carrier they are refurbishing.
Most of these CSGs are not technologically equal to ours. Note that not only do we have more than the rest of the world combined, almost all of the other nations that have them are allies.
Mothballing is not without expense, but it is reversible. We have brought battleships out of mothball status in the past.
It's true that World War III is unlikely to last long enough to bring anything out of mothballs. It's also unlikely to be won or lost by carrier strike groups. The purpose of CSGs is to project power.
The U.S. is currently projecting too much power for our pocketbooks. I do not agree that we need the capability to fight two wars at once in two theaters. We need the capability to fight one.
If we go to war a second time, we should put ourselves in a situation where we must seek allies, where we cannot act unilaterally. Where we have to run our intervention the way the first President Bush ran Desert Storm and the way President Obama intervened in Libya.
We are also looking at a huge cost to refurbish our nuclear warheads. Failure to do so is unsafe. We should cut that cost by cutting the number of warheads we maintain to the number the rest of the world maintains.
The idea that we can get out of our fiscal hole by taxing millionaires alone is silly. All the Bush tax cuts need to go, including the ones that benefit you and me.
The idea that we can balance our budget by cutting discretionary non-defense spending is sillier.
Most silly of all is the idea that the arms race that bankrupted the Soviet Union will not bankrupt the U.S.
Where do I get off using terms like “we” and “our” in reference to the colonial government? Because we, American Indians, do a disproportionate amount of military service and we pay the same taxes non-Indians pay, with trivial exceptions, and we stand to pay indirectly if the BIA is subjected to across-the-board budget cuts when “we,” all of us, sail over the fiscal cliff.
We are going to have to pay more taxes as U.S. citizens. It would good, sooner rather than later, to get used to paying taxes as tribal citizens. I’m no tax lawyer, but a quick reading of 26 USC § 7871 suggests that tribal taxes are not currently deductible from federal income taxes on the same basis as state taxes or even foreign taxes.
It might be politically doable to get not just a deduction but a tax credit, and a way to make it happen would be for a tribe like mine to pass an income tax on tribal citizens contingent upon passage of a federal tax credit.
I’d rather pay the Cherokee Nation than pay Sam, and I wonder how a tribal income tax would affect turnout in tribal elections? I wonder how many paper Cherokees would disappear?
The Plan B budget. It’s what’s for dinner if you don’t want to be a “domestic, dependent nation.”
Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.