Column: Tribal gas tax compacts due for review in Washington

"Here is a lawsuit that will make news next year when the Washington Supreme Court decides it.

The case is Automotive United Trades Organization v. State. It was filed by the trade association of gas-station owners and has been accepted for review by the court. It involves the price of gasoline and diesel at tribal filling stations — and an old legal doctrine called sovereign immunity.

Start this complicated story in 2006. That year, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed deals with several Indian tribes refunding three-quarters of the state fuel tax, amounting to 28 cents, from every gallon of fuel the tribes sold. This refund, which added up to $24.6 million in fiscal 2011, gives the tribes a business advantage enjoyed by no one else. It is one more in a series of legal advantages that allow the tribes to prosper in certain markets, whether it be salmon, fireworks or casino gambling.

In defense of the gas-tax deals, the state cites federal rulings that it cannot impose a gas tax on the tribes. It imposes the tax on the nontribal importers and refiners that sell fuel to the tribes. No tribe owns a refinery or imports fuel, but under these rulings, one could — and escape the tax. The 28-cent refund is essentially a payment not to do this."

Get the Story:
Bruce Ramsey: Tribes' gas-tax compacts ripe for review (The Seattle Times 9/14)

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