UPDATED: Lawmakers Propose Studying Tribal Tax Issues

BISMARCK – North Dakota lawmakers are proposing to form a committee to study tribal taxation issues in an attempt to reach a compromise with the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation over oil tax revenue.

Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, said he plans to introduce an amendment on Friday, April 21, that establishes a 10-member committee to study the oil tax and other issues during the 2017-18 interim, bringing tribal leaders to the table.

MHA Nation Chairman Mark Fox has advocated for a greater share of oil tax revenue from oil produced on trust lands within the Fort Berthold Reservation.

Legislators don’t expect to consider a bill in the final days of the session that would change how oil tax revenue is shared, but the proposed committee would study the issue and could propose legislation in 2019, Cook said.

“This is so we can continue to have some dialog and try to come to a resolution,” Cook said.

Fox said early Friday the tribe appreciates any movement toward positive relations with the state. However, the tribe advocates for giving the governor the authority to negotiate and implement agreements with tribal nations, an authority that legislators removed in 2015.

“The proposed legislation would have little impact to our current considerations to possibly end the tribe’s continued participation in the tribal-state oil and gas agreement,” said Fox, adding the tribe “doesn’t have the luxury to further wait” for a solution.

The proposed committee would include the governor, lieutenant governor, tax commissioner, Indian Affairs Commission executive director and legislative leaders. It will be introduced as part of House Bill 1015, the budget bill for the Office of Management and Budget, Cook said.

The tribe, which accounts for 16 percent of the state’s oil production, opposed changes the Legislature made two years ago to reduce the overall oil tax from 11½ percent to 10 percent. The tribe has never signed a tax agreement with the new tax rate and Fox has said the tribe may need to consider collecting its own tax.

The tribe and the state have wanted to avoid dual taxation on the reservation, which could deter oil development in one of the most prolific areas of the Bakken.

House Minority Leader Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, said he supports an effort to study the tax issues, but he added the tribe may be concerned that it doesn’t provide an immediate resolution.

“I know there’s concern about us not taking policy action this session,” Mock said.