Washington State’s Gas Tax Agreements with Tribes at Stake

Due to a Washington state Supreme Court ruling that’s already causing some controversy, American Indian tribes may find their gas tax treaties in jeopardy.  Washington state currently has gas tax treaties with American Indian tribes that reimburse the tribes 75 percent of the taxes the state collects as long as they use the reimbursement to build and maintain roads. However, the Automotive United Trades Organization, a trade group which represents gas stations, filed a lawsuit against the state saying that the gas tax treaties are unconstitutional because they give the tribes an unfair business advantage.  Initially, the lawsuit was thrown out because the plaintiffs could not sue the tribes because they are sovereign nations.  That ruling was later overturned by the Supreme Court who said it was unjust to throw out a lawsuit simply because the tribe could not be a party to it.

“In such an instance, the quest for ‘complete justice’ ironically leads to none at all,” Justice Debra L. Stephens wrote for the majority. “Sovereign immunity is meant to be raised as a shield by the tribe, not wielded as a sword by the state.” (source)

The judge also ruled that she did not think allowing the suit to go forward threatened the sovereignty of the American Indian tribes; but that throwing out the lawsuit left the plaintiffs no other remedy other than going through the state legislature to have the law changed – a  process which can take years.

Currently, Washington has signed numerous tax treaties with tribes, the gas tax lawsuit could open the door for other legal challenges to treaties which government cigarette taxes and taxes on gambling they hired Conyers DUI Attorney to get them tips.

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