The Cougar Den gas station and restaurant in White Swan, Washington, is owned by Kip Ramsey. Image: Google Maps

Editorial: Yakama Nation gas tax likely headed to higher court

Washington newspaper doesn't think taxation dispute involving a gas station owned by a member of the Yakama Nation will be settled any time soon:
The Cougar Den, owned by a Yakama businessman, operates as a wholesaler and is licensed by the tribe.

The company buys gas tax-free in Oregon and brings it to the Yakama reservation, where it distributes it to gas stations, including some owned by tribal members. The fuel is then sold at a discount to the public.

With our state’s gas tax at 44.5 cents a gallon, the exemption offers a significant competitive advantage. It could spell doom for some gas stations near the reservation who must comply with state tax and licensing requirements.

The judge based his decision on a clause in the Yakamas’ 1885 treaty protecting freedom of travel. That clause was interpreted at the time of the treaty to protect the right of tribal members to trade freely as they had always done. The challenge, especially where a distributor is involved, is making sure the only end user who benefits from the exemption is a tribal member. It’s widely known proof of tribal membership is not normally required for tobacco purchases. It’s safe to say checking eligibility at the gas pump will be even more problematic.

For now, the ruling of the judge is a victory for the tribe. An appeal is most likely coming once the ruling is formal, and this case will almost certainly head to the state Supreme Court. It’s a significant enough issue to potentially wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime, the state should be looking at ways to take action against nontribal members who buy untaxed gasoline and those who sell to them.

Get the Story:
Our Voice: Tribal gas tax exemption creates several challenges (The Tri-City Herald 8/5)

Also Today:
Does state gas tax apply on Yakama reservation? Judge will rule soon (The Yakima Herald-Republic 7/29)
Gas tax fuels debate between Yakama Nation, state (The Yakima Herald-Republic 5/22)

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