Tester raises concerns over state of infrastructure in Indian Country

Senator warns of $50 billion shortfall

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester today raised concerns over the "grossly inadequate, unhealthy and unsafe" status of infrastructure in Indian Country, which is expected to see a $50 billion shortfall in funding for schools, jails and health facilities.

Tester noted that the U.S. government has a trust responsibility to compensate tribal nations for land the U.S. acquired from them in years past.

"Facilities are perhaps the most basic, yet most critical responsibility we have," Tester said this morning during a hearing of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.  "Our forefathers signed legally binding promises.  Those promises have not been fulfilled.  Indians deserve better."

Tester specifically mentioned the deteriorating state of Indian jails, health facilities and schools.

During today's hearing Tester said the Tribal Finance Information Clearinghouse estimates that such facilities face a funding shortfall of approximately $50 billion.

He also criticized officials with the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the lack of school construction projects underway in Indian Country.  He noted that in 2004, the BIA set aside nearly $140 million to replace aging schools.  This year, despite the obvious need for improvement nationwide, the President proposed only $22 million for the BIA to build and renovate schools and other education facilities.

Tester has repeatedly criticized the Bush Administration for putting infrastructure needs—especially those in rural America—low on the list of U.S. spending priorities.

"Highways, waterways and buildings are not designed to last forever, especially if you don't keep investing in them," Tester said.  "In Montana, the list of infrastructure projects that need attention goes on and on, and they're critically important for folks who live in a large, rural state like Montana."

Tester last year cosponsored a bill by Sen. Max Baucus which would provide tax-exempt bonds for tribal governments to build infrastructure such as roads, bridges and buildings.