BOISE – House GOP leaders introduced a bill Monday undermining negotiations between the state’s Indian tribes and the governor’s office over gas taxes, to the dismay of advocates for cooperation with the tribes.
“The governor’s office is working in good faith, the tribes are working in good faith,” said a “disappointed” Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, who chairs the Idaho Indian Affairs Council. Jorgenson said the issue should have been brought to his council, which includes lawmakers and tribal leaders, rather than addressed through legislation without any consultation with tribes.
House Transportation Chairwoman JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, who co-sponsored the bill along with all four members of House GOP leadership, said Idaho is losing out on $3.3 million a year that it could be collecting if it imposed the state gas tax on Indian reservations.
“I guess I would just make a plea saying we need the money. You know we need the money on roads,” Wood told the committee she chairs.
The bill would impose the state’s tax on reservation gas sales but suspend its application if a tribe reaches agreement with the governor’s office over the issue by July 1. However, it would rescind that decision if lawmakers the following year don’t approve the agreement.
“They said, ‘You can enter into an agreement with the governor if you do it by the first of July, but we have the right to take it away in January of 2008,’ ” said Bill Roden, lobbyist for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. “What kind of nonsense is that? There’s absolutely no reason, there’s no way to have open and honest negotiations with that kind of a threat staring you in the face.”
Bob Wells, Gov. Butch Otter’s legislative liaison on transportation and tribal issues, said, “We’re right in the middle of negotiations.”
Legislation was proposed last year to attempt to impose the state gas tax on tribal reservations – something the state has been trying to do for years despite repeated reversals in court – but lawmakers backed off in favor of allowing negotiations between the state and the tribes. That’s how several other states have resolved the gas tax issue. Though tribes don’t charge state gas tax on reservation gas sales, several, including the Coeur d’Alenes, charge their own tribal gas tax on those sales in an amount equal to the state’s tax.
Jorgenson said those negotiations were going well with then-Gov. Jim Risch, but then Risch’s short term ended, and they had to begin again with new Otter, the new governor. The negotiations already have led to some partial agreements, Jorgenson said, and shouldn’t be cut off midstream.
Roden said, “So far as we were concerned, the negotiations were ongoing.” But, he said, “I don’t know how you could come to an agreement when the Legislature, all it has to do is say ‘no.’ … Those who are in leadership right now, they’ve showed no indication that they intend to approve anything we do, and they’ve reserved, in this legislation, the right to say ‘all those negotiations are out the window.’ I’m very disappointed.”
Wood said, “They had promised us last year that they would get this ironed out … which they have not done.”
Wood’s co-sponsors on the bill are all four members of the House GOP leadership: House Speaker Lawerence Denney, Majority Leader Mike Moyle, Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke and GOP Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts.