OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — Tribes and Oklahoma lawmakers are wondering what’s next after Tuesday’s call to cut the state income tax by Governor Stitt.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” said Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat on Wednesday at a press availability. “Are we going to close schools? Are we going to undo the recent teacher pay raises? Are we going to tax oil and gas and businesses more? Are we going to close hospitals? Are we going to raise property taxes?”
It seems to be Governor Stitt’s latest plan to oppose parts of the McGirt Law from 2020. The Governor announced a future special session for an executive order to take place on October 3rd.
The order would trigger if a court rules tribal citizens do not have to pay state income taxes; if the court rules that tribal citizens are exempt from the income tax, then the rest of Oklahoma will also be exempt under the order.
“I think it is shameful and such a mess,” said Muscogee Principal Chief David Hill in response. “We have, for too long, been nice and courteous thinking he would work alongside us but it just seems like he wants to butt heads.”
In the past, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that any Native American living and working on tribal land could be exempt from paying the state income tax.
The Oklahoma Tax Commission made more precise rules which prevented hundreds, if not thousands, from being exempt.
But the state Supreme Court is hearing a case right now that could change that: Stroble v. Oklahoma Tax Commission.
Alicia Stroble said that she was made to pay state income tax even though she worked and lived on Muscogee land as a citizen of Muscogee. This case could change how tribes pay for the state income tax or the court could turn it down completely.
“We will either be allowed oral arguments or it will be dismissed,” said Michael Parks, who represents Stroble in the case. “I hope they follow through with it, it would save thousands of tribal members money.”
However if the executive order passes then the state would lose $4 billion at a minimum from the general fund. Lawmakers spoke out on Wednesday about the lack of communication from the governor on his announcement.
“I haven’t really spoken with him since May and especially nothing about this,” said Treat. “I find it interesting that the governor wants to forfeit billions of dollars and compromise safety and education because he’s upset about a hypothetical case.”
Treat said that he wants the governor to speak with the Appropriations Committee at next months special session about where the money would come from and how he plans to spend it.
Several Tribal leaders expressed concern with how the governor was handling the matter. Principal Chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation David Hill said it was confusing.
In the announcement the governor stated that it is for fairness for all Oklahomans.
“It will be just another mess for Oklahomans and lawmakers to have to clean up,” said Chief Hill.
The Cherokee Nation’s views on this matter have remained consistent and in line with state and federal law — Oklahoma cannot tax the income of tribal citizens who live on and derive their income wholly from sources on their Nation’s reservation. This legal principle certainly applies to the Cherokee Nation reservation and its citizens.Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.
As we await the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision, we encourage our partners in the legislature to proceed in a manner that respects tribal sovereignty and encourages collaboration on our shared goals over political division. As with criminal justice, the best path forward for all Oklahomans is cooperation between tribes and the state to deliver the best results for all. In the meantime, my administration will continue working to protect our sovereignty, regardless of the governor’s attacks that waste the time and resources of everyone in Oklahoma.
We have one job – to serve and protect all four million Oklahomans. I’m calling on the Legislature to fight for Oklahomans and demand fairness and transparency in our tax system and our budget process. I am also calling on the Legislature to put Oklahoma on a path to zero income tax and give Oklahomans a much-needed tax break. If not now, when?Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt
We commend Senate Pro Temp Greg Treat’s fight for transparency and efficiency in state government. Priorities and goals should be stated clearly before jumping into another special session. We look forward to a resolution that benefits all Oklahomans and unifies rather than divides our great state.Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Chief Gary Batton
As of now, Parks said that they are waiting to see what the court wants to do next with the case.
In the Governor’s call for special session, he called the Legislature to deliver on the following priorities:
- A trigger law mandating that if a state or federal court finds that some individuals, due to their race, heritage, or political classification, don’t have to pay a state tax, then no Oklahoman will have to pay the tax
- A tax cut that puts Oklahoma on the path to zero income taxes. This will keep us in line with surrounding Republican-led states.
- A measure that increases budget transparency to ensure that Oklahomans and their elected representatives have the ability and opportunity to see how their taxpayer dollars are being spent.