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Finance Web site hopes to improve tribal information

WASHINGTON ñ Generations of researchers fell on their knees and heard the angel voices, as the old hymn has it, at the launch of a Web site exclusively dedicated to tribal finance. Reliable financial data on tribes is notoriously difficult to come by, in part because it is private and in part because existing information tends to be scattered among tribes, agencies and nonprofit organizations.

Gavin Clarkson of the University of Michigan announced the site, www.tribalfinance.org, at National Intertribal Tax Alliance meetings in August and at the recently concluded National Congress of American Indians conference in California. The National Science Foundation is funding the project and the University of Michigan contributes critical in-kind support.

The overarching mission of the Web site and its researchers is to become an information clearinghouse for tribal economic decision-makers, entrepreneurs and investors. The projectís immediate priority is to eliminate racism in the Internal Revenue Service tax code that increases the cost of investment capital to tribes, in particular those tribes that issue bonds to fund essential government functions that are undefined by the IRS.

Uncertainty among bond investors as to the eligibility of a bond for tax-free treatment as an essential government function translates to risk; and that risk, unique to tribes, drives up the cost of capital. ìThese restrictions harm the poorer tribes the most,î according to the Web site, ìas the differential between tax-exempt and taxable interest rates often determines the feasibility of a project.î The site also maintains that tribes are the targets of disproportional IRS enforcement actions because of the tax codeís inadequate definition of essential government functions.

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Clarkson is appealing for tribes to send the project their 80-38 forms, required by the IRS for bond issuances. They are private documents, and the IRS canít release them or reveal their contents without tribal authorization. The forms do not contain information on tribal finances, but only on bonds a tribe has issued. The forms will provide useful information for tribes that are seeking to issue their own bonds. The forms will also alert tribes to IRS over-aggression and the kinds of bond-financed projects it is questioning, Clarkson said.

WASHINGTON ñ Generations of researchers fell on their knees and heard the angel voices, as the old hymn has it, at the launch of a Web site exclusively dedicated to tribal finance. Reliable financial data on tribes is notoriously difficult to come by, in part because it is private and in part because existing information tends to be scattered among tribes, agencies and nonprofit organizations.Gavin Clarkson of the University of Michigan announced the site, www.tribalfinance.org, at National Intertribal Tax Alliance meetings in August and at the recently concluded National Congress of American Indians conference in California. The National Science Foundation is funding the project and the University of Michigan contributes critical in-kind support.The overarching mission of the Web site and its researchers is to become an information clearinghouse for tribal economic decision-makers, entrepreneurs and investors. The projectís immediate priority is to eliminate racism in the Internal Revenue Service tax code that increases the cost of investment capital to tribes, in particular those tribes that issue bonds to fund essential government functions that are undefined by the IRS.Uncertainty among bond investors as to the eligibility of a bond for tax-free treatment as an essential government function translates to risk; and that risk, unique to tribes, drives up the cost of capital. ìThese restrictions harm the poorer tribes the most,î according to the Web site, ìas the differential between tax-exempt and taxable interest rates often determines the feasibility of a project.î The site also maintains that tribes are the targets of disproportional IRS enforcement actions because of the tax codeís inadequate definition of essential government functions.Clarkson is appealing for tribes to send the project their 80-38 forms, required by the IRS for bond issuances. They are private documents, and the IRS canít release them or reveal their contents without tribal authorization. The forms do not contain information on tribal finances, but only on bonds a tribe has issued. The forms will provide useful information for tribes that are seeking to issue their own bonds. The forms will also alert tribes to IRS over-aggression and the kinds of bond-financed projects it is questioning, Clarkson said.