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Idaho senator says reservation gas tax issue not ‘worth the time’

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WORLEY, Idaho (AP) – A northern Idaho lawmaker says the amount of money being brought in by a tribal fuel tax is not worth the time the tribes and state are putting in to find a compromise on how it is divided.

“It’s not even worth the time being here,” Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, said during a meeting with tribe representatives on June 6.

At stake is $3.5 million in fuel taxes being collected every year at reservation gas stations. In the last legislative session, lawmakers introduced House Bill 661 to try to take the money, but the bill died in committee.

Since then, the tribes have been trying to negotiate an agreement with the state to avoid similar legislation from being introduced next year.

Jorgenson, a member of the Idaho Council on Indian Affairs, and Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’ Alene, said that if a solution isn’t reached before the Legislature convenes in January, lawmakers will probably vote on another bill dealing with the issue.

“I think if we don’t have something accomplished by then we will see legislation coming back,” said Sayler, who chairs the council’s subcommittee on the fuel tax issue.

Each tribe has been working on proposals to allow the state to keep a portion of the fuel tax.

“We have agreements in principle, it’s just working out the final details,” said Jorgenson.

Gov. Jim Risch took part in the council’s meeting in April. He suggested a 50 – 50 split, but tribal leaders declined to make an agreement at that time and Risch left frustrated at the impasse.

Chief Allan, chairman of the Coeur d’ Alene Tribe, said he isn’t sure what Risch is looking for in the agreement. He also said that he isn’t sure that drafting proposals to give to Jorgenson to give to Risch is a valid way to negotiate.

Russell Westerberg, a lobbyist with the Kootenai Tribe, said the tribe recognizes that “the state of Idaho has no authority to regulate taxes” on the reservation. Still, he said the tribe didn’t want any bad feelings to exist between it and the state.

Most of the money from the fuel tax comes from the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, which runs a large fuel business on its reservation near Pocatello.