The Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee has unanimously approved HB 140, the bill to clarify that land owned by tribal governments on reservations is exempt from property taxes just like land owned by any other government entity, despite last-minute opposition from Benewah County. Benewah County Prosecutor Doug Payne told the committee, “The tribal government is not just a government, the tribal government is also a business, big business.” Benewah County Commissioner Phil Lampert said he believes the tribe has more than adequate resources to pay county property taxes. “I don’t think it’s much of an impact to them,” he told the committee.
Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, asked Lampert, “Is the tribe the only government entity that you guys tax?” Lampert responded, “Probably are. As you know, if you tax the county you’re just taxing yourself. School districts are exempt. But as Mr. Payne said, it is a unique government.”
The bill earlier cleared the House Rev & Tax Committee on a unanimous vote and passed the House, 64-3. It now moves to the full Senate.
After the meeting, Payne said the somewhat prickly relations between his county and the tribe have improved. “I was actually surprised by this bill,” he said. “We’re working together better than we have in years.”