Through Oil Taxes and Flags, ND Legislature Continues To Show Little Respect for Tribal Neighbors

Two bills have been acted upon this week that show the Legislature has very little concern for our Tribal relations. One, a change to oil taxes that lowers the tax rate again. The other, allowing our state to respectfully recognize the Tribes within our borders by displaying their flags in the Capitol. One passed the chamber they were in, the other failed. Take a guess.

Oil Taxes

The House approved another reduction in the oil tax rates on Wednesday. HB 1166 introduced by Rep. Al Carlson and a couple of other House members would remove the trigger created in 2015 that would raise the rate to 6% just below the rate voters approved through initiated measure. The new trigger was created as a flawed compromise during the heated 2015 debate when the Republican Legislature reduced the oil tax by 23%.

The new tax reduction introduced by Carlson is accompanied by a fiscal note that says there won’t be an impact because this trigger has not been active yet. Because of that, we will never know how the state and the MHA nation potentially will lose millions of oil revenue over the life of our oil development. How convenient for the Legislature and the Tax Commissioner’s Office.

Like the oil tax reduction in 2015, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation were opposed to HB 1166. I wrote about the oil tax agreement between the state and the MHA Nation in January. This is the second time in the four years of the agreement the Legislature has unilaterally altered it without the consent of the MHA Nation. Chairman Mark Fox indicated in his testimony on the bill the MHA Nation may be forced to pull out of the agreement. This may lead to dual taxation and confusion on the oil industry. If so, the blame lands squarely on the Legislature and their lack of respect.

Tribal Flags

The North Dakota Senate joined in the effort to continue the tribal-state relation strain Tuesday when they defeated SB 2287The bill, introduced by Senator Richard Marcellais, would have placed the flag for each Native American tribe in North Dakota on display in the memorial hall of the Capitol. A simple bill that would show respect and follow Governor Burgum’s lead in trying to mend the fractured relationship. The final vote was 23-21, falling one vote short of the 24 votes needed for passage.

Sen. Richard Marcellais

Senator Marcellais is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, a Vietnam Veteran, and an all around good man. Unfortunately, many of his efforts are defeated due to partisan politics. He fights damn hard for Native American and Veteran issues in the state.

This is not his first attempt at getting the Capitol to display our Tribal flags as a sign of mutual respect. In 2015, SB 2240 was introduced and defeated in the Senate 21-26. The argument then? The Capitol Grounds Planning Commission can do this if they want. Well, they haven’t and thus why the bill is back.

The bill takes on a new role in 2017, however. The defeat comes after the Legislative Management Committee canceled the Tribal Address to the 65th Legislative Session. The message sent by the 65th Legislative Session: We don’t welcome your concerns or objections to our actions and we damn sure don’t want to be reminded of it daily when we walk past your flags in the Great Hall.

The majority would be wise to follow the leadership from Governor Burgum and the minority party in this instance.

Tyler Axness
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