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Rev & Tax unanimously backs bill to clarify that counties can’t tax tribal lands on reservations

There was no opposition, and the House Revenue & Taxation Committee was unanimous this morning in backing HB 140, the bill to clarify that tribe-owned land within Idaho Indian reservations is not subject to local county property taxation. Such lands hadn’t been taxed in Idaho for a century due to the state Constitution’s provision declaring that the state “forever disclaim(s) all right and title” to tribal lands, but some counties around the state started sending tax bills to tribes in 2006.

“This is something the tribes need and the counties need … for clarity,” Helo Hancock, legislative director for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, told the committee. “It certainly is consistent and reaffirms the Constitution.” The bill adds tribes to the section of state law noting that government property isn’t subject to local property tax.

On Friday, the Kootenai County Commission voted unanimously to cancel the back property taxes it had assessed against the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s lands. “The tribe is certainly a government,” Hancock told the committee. “It’s required to provide essential services,” from police, courts and fire to road and social service programs. He noted that the Coeur d’Alene Tribe also has donated $10 million to taxing districts in its area.  

Rep. Neil Anderson, R-Blackfoot, said, “We’re talking about the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, who I think are a progressive, generous group of people. But it’s my understanding this law will apply to all Indian tribes in the state of Idaho,” including those, he said, that might not be as “magnanimous.” Hancock responded that the Kootenai Tribe donates 10 to 20 times the amount to its surrounding community that would be generated if its lands were taxed. At the Shoshone-Bannock reservation in eastern Idaho, he said, 98 percent of the property is tribal trust land, and the amount in dispute over county property taxes is only about $3,000. Total statewide property tax bills that have been sent to tribes come to just over $300,000 a year, much of that on the Coeur d’Alene reservation; much of the land targeted was opened up for non-tribal homesteading at one point in history, then later reacquired by the tribe.

The bill now moves to the full House; to become law, it must pass both there and in the Senate and receive the governor’s signature.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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