Washington Supreme Court Grants Review of Tribal Property Tax Case

The Washington State Supreme Court has accepted review in City of Snoqualmie v. King County Exec. Dow Constantine, et al., framing the matter as follows:

Whether provisions of RCW 82.29A.055(2) and (3) that allow counties to negotiate Indian Tribes’ payments in lieu of excise taxes on tribal property used for “economic development” violate the uniform taxation clause under article VII, section 1 of the Washington Constitution or unconstitutionally surrender the legislature’s taxing authority.

In March 2005, we blogged that King County Superior Court Judge Mary Roberts "in rather scant fashion that the 'payment in lieu of tax' (PILT) component of Washington State Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1287 is unconstitutional."  

The City of Snoqualmie's Superior Court suit attacked a PILT agreement that King County negotiated with the Muckleshoot Tribe regarding the Tribe's Salish Lodge.  Under that agreement, Muckleshoot agreed to pay $103,000 in PILT last year for the Lodge. 

As we explained then of the lower court ruling:

Judge Roberts ruled House Bill 1287 unlawful per Article VII of the state Constitution because a PILT "is not imposed at an equal tax rate and does not produce equality in valuing the property taxed."
Further, the Judge ruled that insofar as House Bill 1287 "unlawfully delegates [taxing] authority to Indian tribes and/or the State Department of Revenue," Section 8 of the bill "violates Article VII Section 1’s command that 'the power of taxation shall never be surrendered, suspended or contracted away. [sic]"

It will interesting to see if the Court follows logic espoused by its AUTO decision in 20014, by which it found that the Legislature did not act unconstitutionally when delegating power to the Governor to negotiate gas tax compacts with tribal governments in Washington State:

We also find no unconstitutional delegation of legislative power.

With the Washington Supreme Court constantly in flux and closely divided on Indian issues (see here and here), City of Snoqualmie will certainly be one to watch.

More generally, it seems the City of Snoqualmie, given all of its recently demonstrated animosity towards the Snoqualmie Tribe, too, is content to return to the days of "deadliest enemy"-relations with its neighboring tribal peoples.

Gabe Galanda represents Indian peoples, practicing law in Seattle with Galanda Broadman, PLLC. He descends from the Nomlaki and Concow Tribes, belonging to the Round Valley Indian Confederation.