Wyoming, Tribes exploring changes to sales tax collection, distribution models

Local Tribal officials say they’re interested in working with the state to incorporate the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming’s sales tax distribution model.

Wyoming Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, proposed the idea earlier this year during a meeting of the Wyoming Legislature’s Select Committee on Tribal Relations, and he reiterated his interest in the proposal when the committee met again last month.

“I want all these big brains out here to be thinking about this in a different way,” Case said. “Everybody (could) pay the existing state sales tax, but it would be shared with Tribal governments. …

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“I think that would solve so many problems, as well as give a revenue stream for folks and encourage economic development on the reservation.”

Narrow exemption, no distribution

Currently, Wyoming has a Tribal sales tax exemption that only applies to purchases made on the Wind River Reservation by enrolled members of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes.

Local Tribal members do pay state sales taxes when they make off-reservation purchases – but none of Wyoming’s sales tax revenues are currently shared with Tribal governments.

For online purchases delivered to the reservation, local Tribal members have to fill out a form in order to access their sales tax exemption – a process that can be confusing and is likely overlooked by many individuals, who end up “paying a tax they’re not supposed to be paying,” Wyoming Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, said.

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“If we do nothing, then I really do believe the state is over-collecting (online) sales taxes from Tribal members,” Ellis said. “Every day that we don’t do something, people are making purchases and paying a tax they shouldn’t be, (and) I don’t like over-collecting taxes, or collecting taxes we shouldn’t be collecting.”

Northern Arapaho Business Council representative Travis McNiven echoed her characterization of the situation.

“Additional taxes are being collected on (Tribal) members,” he said. “There are challenges with getting (people) educated to how they can fill out an online form … to exempt that.”

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Some online retailers “don’t know how to handle” the exemption form, either, Eastern Shoshone Business Councilmember Michael Ute said, calling it a “cumbersome process, to say the least.”

Case’s idea would be more “workable,” McNiven said, and Ute agreed.

“I do kind of like the idea of sharing tax revenues with the Tribes,” Ute said. “It makes it more simple.”

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Wind River Tax Commission

Ute suggested the state move forward by developing several sales tax collection and distribution models to present to Tribal government entities, including the Wind River Tax Commission.

“This is going to take (a) lot of collaboration,” he said. “This is a complex issue (that goes) far beyond one or two meetings.”

For example, WRTC chair Orville St. Clair said a “major point of discussion” would involve the collection of state severance taxes on Tribal fee land.

“There’s a large amount of tax revenue coming (from) illegally taxing our oil and gas production,” St. Clair said. “(So we’re) glad to hear Sen. Case talk about sharing.”

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