Montana Public Radio

Lawmakers Consider Repealing Property Tax Exemption For Tribes

Feb 2, 2021

Montana lawmakers are again considering a bill that would repeal an exemption on some property taxes for tribes in Montana. The policy failed last session.

Gale Decker, a commissioner for Lake County, says a 2011 law is giving tribes in Montana an unnecessary tax break.

"It is providing a tax vacation for numerous properties that are in fee."

State law provides for a property tax exemption for tribes when they apply for federal trust designation on fee land they buy. This is land that once belonged to tribes as outlined in various treaties with the U.S. government, but was later sold to non-Native American settlers. 

Decker says some land that has received this property tax exemption didn’t end up receiving the federal trust designation. He’s supporting Senate Bill 138, which would repeal that exemption.

Shelly Fyant, chairwoman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, spoke in opposition, saying tribes shouldn’t pay taxes on land that was given away in violation of treaties. She said she doesn’t know of any situation in which one government taxes another.

"It is frustrating that we need to keep discussing what has already been decided as good for Montana and its tribal nations time and time again."

Opponents of the bill like the ACLU of Montana and Western Native Voice raised concern that the bill is an unconstitutional infringement on tribal sovereignty. 

The Senate Taxation Committee has yet to take a vote on the legislation.