February 7, 2008 in Idaho

Fuel tax pacts clear panel

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer

Fuel tax agreements

The agreements negotiated by Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and four Idaho Indian tribes require:

•Tax parity. All four tribes agreed to charge tribal gas taxes equal to the state’s 25-cent-a-gallon tax and to raise their tax if the state raises its tax.

•Transportation funding. The tribes agreed to spend their fuel tax revenues on transportation expenses on their reservations, including road maintenance, and in some cases rest areas, waterways or buses.

•Other issues. Each tribe reached a separate agreement with the state regarding a 1-cent-a-gallon state transfer fee and regarding diesel fuel sold to interstate truckers, which is taxed under a multistate agreement.

BOISE – An Idaho Senate panel has voted unanimously to ratify fuel tax agreements that Gov. Butch Otter negotiated with the Coeur d’Alene, Nez Perce, Kootenai and Shoshone-Bannock tribes.

“These are great agreements – it resolves a longstanding issue in a way that’s fair and equitable,” David Hensley, Otter’s legal counsel, told the Senate State Affairs Committee.

Said committee Chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, “I think it’s good for the tribes and very good for the state.”

“Likewise,” said Lee Juan Tyler, vice chairman of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, who was in the audience.

The concurrent resolution ratifying the agreements, SCR 125, is co-sponsored by Otter, House Speaker Lawerence Denney and state Senate President Pro-tem Bob Geddes.

Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, chairman of the Idaho Indian Affairs Council, said the high-powered sponsorship is a sign.

“These agreements, I think, represent a changing of attitudes in relations between the state and the tribes,” Jorgenson said. “There are many other issues that we can at least consider that well might be able to be resolved by agreement.”

Last year, the Legislature voted to impose the state’s fuel tax on Idaho’s Indian tribes, despite legal problems, unless they reached agreements with the governor by Dec. 1. All four agreements were reached by that deadline.

Jorgenson said some lawmakers still have questions about the agreements, but he said he thinks after lawmakers review the details, they’ll support them.

“Once people realize the extent of the negotiations, everything that was taken into consideration … it’s a good bill,” he said.

Russ Westerberg, a lobbyist for the Kootenai Tribe, said, “We’re very pleased the governor met with them and they were able to agree. … We think the process has worked very well.”

The resolution now moves to the full Senate.

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