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Bill Gives Tax Break To Kootenai Indians

Tue., Feb. 7, 1995

Hoping that five is the charm, legislators have again proposed a bill to let the Kootenai Indian Tribe keep some sales tax from a tribal-owned business.

“If they don’t have natural resources, can we make merchants out of them? The answer, I think, is yes,” said Sen. Cecil Ingram, R-Boise, who introduced the bill Monday.

The bill would extend to the tiny tribe the same rights enjoyed by larger Indian tribes for the past six years. Large tribes are exempt from collecting the 5 percent state sales tax, provided the business is tribally owned and on reservation land.

Ingram’s law would allow the Kootenais to collect - and keep - sales tax on a business on tribal trust lands within 10 miles of the 12-acre reservation. Lawmakers shot down four similar bills last year.

The state would lose $200,000 to $400,000, but Ingram thinks it will pay off in the long run.

“It makes sense for the state to show some compassion for their (the tribe’s) position,” said Sen. Tim Tucker, D-Porthill.

Similar proposals last year raised an outcry from Bonners Ferry retailers and citizens. They said the tribe, which wanted the tax from its Bargain Giant store in Bonners Ferry, was getting an unfair advantage.

“Maybe it is a tax break, but it’s time for us to give a tax break to people who can use it,” said Ingram.”It’s a small group of people in a desperate situation.”

Boundary County officials were caught off guard Monday by the tribe’s new proposal and were disappointed Tucker had not contacted them.

“We haven’t heard boo about it from Mr. Tucker or the tribe,” said county Commission Chairman Bob Graham. “We had no inkling they would be doing this again this year. I would think they would at least want to keep the community informed.”

Bonners Ferry Mayor Harold Sims said the city also was not privy to the tribe’s plans.

“It surprises me. I didn’t think they were in the grocery business anymore,” Sims said.

Last year the tribe asked the city and county for letters of support to help push the proposal through the Legislature. The county objected to the plan, and the city offered only tepid support.

Graham said he plans to look into the new bill this week when commissioners attend an Idaho Association of Counties gathering in Boise.

The commissioners are slated to meet with their local representatives Thursday.

“If you’re going to pump water, sometimes you have to prime the pump,” said Ingram.

He said the tribe would pay its fair share of local hospital, police, fire and roads costs.

Another 40 percent would be set aside for the tribe’s permanent fund. The rest of the money would pay for educating tribal members, providing medical care and retaining tribal ownership of ancestral land. The tribe also wants to establish a youth cultural program and “contribute generously to the enhancement of the public services available to all citizens in Boundary County,” Ingram said.

Tucker said he’s skeptical the bill will pass. Most of the senators, he said, are skeptical about the odds for economic development on reservations.

But Ingram said he expects the bill to pass and the governor to sign it.

“I play to win,” he said.

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