WA Supreme Court rules against tribes in gas tax case

August 30, 2012

In a blow to state Indian tribes, the Washington State Supreme Court just issued their decision in the tribal gas tax case, siding with the plaintiff and sending the case back to the trial court to proceed without the tribes as a party.

In 2006, Governor Christine Gregoire negotiated an agreement with Washington State Indian tribes that exempts tribally owned fuel stations from paying 75% of state gas taxes. The compacts allow the tribes to spend the money on non-highway purposes, a clear violation of the 18th Amendment. A group called the Automotive United Trades Organization (AUTO) challenged the compacts and a lower court dismissed the case because the tribes had sovereign immunity. AUTO appealed to the Supreme Court.

Washington Policy Center filed an Amicus Brief asking the Supreme Court to accept direct review on this case, which they ultimately did. WPC also conducted a price survey of 18 tribal stations located in five metropolitan areas around the state. We found that tribal stations consistently charge less for fuel than non tribal operators and in one case we found the tribal station selling gas for up to 48 cents cheaper.

In the 5-4 decision, the majority opinion took significant issue with many of the States' arguments defending the tribes and the compacts:

Citing Marbury v. Madison, the majority wrote:

Moreover, the notion that potentially unconstitutional government conduct must be redressed through the legislature is frankly astonishing given the bedrock principle that it is "emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is."

And then this zinger:

Sovereign immunity is meant to be raised as a shield by the tribe, not wielded as a sword by the State.

The court concludes:

While the tribes are necessary parties whose joinder is not feasible due to sovereign immunity, in the circumstances of this case they are not indispensable. 

We reverse the trial court's order of dismissal and hold that this action can proceed without the tribes "in equity and good conscience" under CR 19(b).5.

Read the full decision here.


Gas tax

About time we have been supporting all of their roads and improvements out of our pockets and with the income they have there is no reason to allow them to also pocket the mandatory taxes we have to pay, This should also encompass the Cigarette taxes they pocket they are NOT a seperate nation they are in common with the rest of us when it comes to State taxes.

Build your own light rail

Or whatever you want to build. The State used to collect all kinds of taxes from Reservation stations and ignore the thousands of miles of rural roads. Only to spend that money on tunnels, viaducts, trains and overpasses.

So you would ignore the elephant in the room and go after the pittance located here?

That is not a market based solution.


You are obviously ignorant about what you "support." And about the supposed "income" the Tribes have.

I tell you what. Do a little homework, research all the Tribes in the State. Find out what the "income" of each Tribe is, and then tell us the number of miles of roadway exists within Reservation boundaries. Ok?

Here is a hint: be careful not to get caught up with just a few (small land based) Gaming Tribes.

I'll give you all weekend. Someone as smart as you should be able to figure this out.

And finally, I would have thought that Market Based solutions would embrace lower gas prices, lower taxes and trying to drive down the price and tax rate all around. Instead of "spreading the pain."

Gee, I wonder if these last

Gee, I wonder if these last two comments came from "IAMCoyote" at the so-called "Northwest Republican" blog. Could it be the former "political consultant from Oregon" who seems to think that government giving preferential treatment to certain businesses is somehow the real "free market"?

By the way, just because you used your Wendy's night-shift lunch break to send a bunch of emails to your local GOP city council candidate telling him how to message his new anti-dog-barking ordinance proposal, doesn't mean you're a "political consultant."