After five years, a 'no' the state of Idaho can hear?
PORTLAND, Ore. - It may be 2005, but shooting from the hip hasn't gone out
of fashion in the West. Most recently the U.S. Supreme Court - by declining
the state's appeal for a hearing - reminded Idaho that indeed, it does not
have the right to tax fuel sales at the Nez Perce Tribe's gas station on
Highway 12/95, five miles outside of Lewiston.
In 1999, the Goodman Oil Company sued the Idaho Tax Commission for
collecting taxes on fuel the company sold to Indian reservations. The oil
company won its case in a state district court and the subsequent appeal to
the Idaho Supreme Court in 2001.
The pro-tribal ruling didn't stop the state, though. First, Idaho asked the
U.S. Supreme Court to decide the issue. Then when the land's highest court
refused, the state legislature got creative: in 2002 Idaho passed a bill
that allowed it to not only collect such taxes from tribes, but to do so
In response to this shoot-from-the hip lawmaking, the Idaho tribes - Coeur
d'Alene, Shoshone Bannock and Nez Perce - took the state back to court.
Once again, the tribes won in the lower court, and the state appealed. And
once again, after the tribes won in the Idaho Supreme Court, the state
asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its plea. Now that word has come back
that the Supreme Court justices will not hear the case, the tribes are
hoping that Idaho will at last understand that illegal means illegal.
Vice chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee Allen Slickpoo
Jr. said that the Nez Perce Tribe has been collecting its own 15
cent-per-gallon tax on the fuel it sells, fees the tribe has held in
reserve throughout the court proceedings.
"We will also be requesting, once again, that the funds already collected
by the state of Idaho over about a 10 month period in 1999, be refunded
immediately," Slickpoo said. "We assume that the state was escrowing these
funds, just as the tribe had been doing pending outcome of the lawsuit. So
we expect that the funds will be readily available for payment."
The Idaho Tax Commission collected approximately $250,000 during that time,
a figure that, along with interest accrued, the Nez Perce Tribe hopes will
be forthcoming now that the state has presumably exhausted its interest in
trying to recast federal law.