February 28, 2007 in Idaho

Tribe tax bill softened

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer
 

BOISE – Gov. Butch Otter is negotiating with Idaho Indian tribes over gas taxes and said he doesn’t want lawmakers to cut off the negotiations July 1.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Lawerence Denney introduced new legislation to replace an earlier House GOP leadership bill that sought to take away gas tax revenue from any tribe that doesn’t reach an agreement with the governor by July 1. The new version of the bill, introduced on a party-line vote in the House Ways and Means Committee, would give the governor and tribes until Dec. 1 to reach an agreement.

“The governor is focused on the negotiations,” said David Hensley, Otter’s legal counsel. “The governor told me that we need a longer time frame if we’re going to be realistic about reaching an agreement with the tribes, and we need some time to sit down and work through that.”

Denney also made another change in the bill he introduced Tuesday to replace HB 188: He eliminated a clause that said even if tribes reached agreements with the governor, they’d be voided if lawmakers didn’t approve the agreements at their next legislative session.

“We have agreed to strike” that clause, Denney told the Ways and Means Committee, “which basically says if we do nothing, if the Legislature does nothing, we negate the agreement between the tribes and the governor.”

Democrats on the committee objected to the new version, saying there’s no need for any legislation when the tribes and the governor already are in negotiations.

“I don’t think this is something that the Legislature should be involved in,” said House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum.

House Assistant Minority Leader George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, said, “This is putting a pressure on the tribes that’s going to be counterproductive. Those negotiations have been proceeding in good faith.”

Sayler noted that after lawmakers held off on gas tax legislation last year in favor of negotiations with the tribes, the tribes and governor’s office began talks. But the change in gubernatorial administrations twice since then has slowed the talks.

Sayler called the new bill “an ill-timed and ill-advised measure.”

Bill Roden, lobbyist for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, said he’s still reviewing the new legislation with his client. While the changes are “certainly an improvement over what it was,” he said, “still, it really does not provide a good framework for real negotiations, in my opinion.”

Roden, an attorney, added that he believes the new bill has some serious technical problems.

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe is “very much opposed to HB 188,” Roden said.

Hensley said Otter’s office already has been in contact with all three Idaho tribes that sell gasoline and has met with officials of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.

“I have a meeting set up tomorrow with the Nez Perce,” Hensley said Tuesday. He also said he’s working on plans for a meeting with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.

“We reached out to all three of the tribes – we recognized they stayed at the table,” Hensley said. “We want to engage with them. … The negotiations are continuing, and we’ve picked up where we left off, and we’re moving right along.”

Hensley said Otter had concerns about HB 188 and was particularly concerned that the time frame it laid out for negotiations was “problematic.”

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