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Eye On Boise

Fuel tax bill passes Senate committee

HB 249, the bill to impose a Dec. 1 deadline on negotiations between Idaho Indian tribes and the governor over fuel taxes, passed the Senate Local Government & Tax Commttee this morning on a 6-3 vote, and now heads to the full Senate. Sens. Brent Hill, Lee Heinrich, Shirley McKague, Tim Corder, Curt McKenzie and Jeff Siddoway voted in favor; Sens. Joe Stegner, David Langhorst and Diane Bilyeu voted against.

“This doesn’t really enhance the options of the governor with regard to settlement,” Stegner told the committee. “I find this unhelpful to this process.” Added Langhorst, “I think if this law passes, we’re going to see an instant lawsuit that’ll tie this up longer than December.”

Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, told the panel, “There are considerable other things that the state of Idaho does for our neighbors on the reservations. … This one is a matter of fairness.”

The bill says that if tribes haven’t reached agreement over fuel taxes with the governor by the cutoff date, they lose and the state imposes its state fuel tax on the reservations, which would garner the state an additional $3 million a year. At a hearing the day before, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes said they’d sue if the state did that, and they expect to win. The Sho-Bans also have passed a tribal resolution stating that if the state imposes its fuel tax on the reservation without an agreement with the tribes, the tribes will begin taxing agricultural products raised by non-Indians on their reservation, which lies in the heart of Idaho’s potato country and includes thousands of acres leased to non-Indian farmers.

Langhorst said, “The need for funds is real, but part of that lays right on this body, that we haven’t found a way to sufficiently fund our highway maintenance. I don’t believe that should fall on the tribes.”

Hill said, “The money, I guess, is one thing, but my obsession with fairness forces me to support this motion. … We’ve been working on this for years. … There has not been a resolution. It’s time to take a position.”

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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