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Bill would clarify that counties can’t charge property tax on tribal land within reservations

Tribe-owned lands on Indian reservations haven’t been charged property taxes by surrounding counties since statehood; the Idaho Constitution prohibits it. But in 2006, an array of counties in Idaho started sending tax bills to Indian tribes for tribal-owned properties. This year, Idaho’s five Indian tribes received a total of just over $300,000 in property tax bills for tribe-owned properties on reservations. Some of the tribes have paid the bills; some have paid under protest; some have entered into talks with their local counties. But Helo Hancock, legislative director for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, told the House Revenue & Taxation Committee this morning that Idaho should clarify the issue in state law; Washington, Oregon, Nevada and Montana already have done so.

Hancock said the tribes have made presentations about the issue to both the Idaho Association of Counties and the Idaho State Tax Commission. “They haven’t raised any opposition,” he said. “I think the counties need this clarity just as much as the tribes do.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, said, “Apparently we have not been doing that, but suddenly everybody’s starving to death and so we’re going to go for taxes. … I think at least in my personal opinion that we should not tax those lands, and I’m really sorry that we’re all so desperate that we’ve got to find little pockets of money anywhere we can.”

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, moved to introduce Hancock’s proposed bill, which would recognize that tribal government properties on reservations are exempt from taxation as are other government properties, and the motion passed unanimously. That clears the way for a full hearing on it in the committee.

Asked why the tribes decided to propose legislation rather than sue under the provisions of the state Constitution, Hancock said, “We’ve tried to approach this in a more amicable way. … We’re hoping that rather than going to court on this, this is something we can resolve through a public policy decision.”


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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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