City mulls Tlingit-Haida tax exemption

Finance director says economic effect would be 'relatively minor'

Posted: Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Juneau Assembly will hold a public hearing on an ordinance it is considering Friday to exempt tribal governments from sales tax.

Craig Duncan, the city's director of finance, said the economic effect of such an exemption would be "relatively minor," in the ballpark of $10,000 a year.

Sales taxes are expected to bring in more than $40 million for city operations and projects by the end of the budget year, though recent projections show falling revenues limiting services.

The Tlingit and Haida Central Council proposed the sales tax exemption. As a federally recognized Indian tribe, the council is one of two entities in the area likely to benefit from the change.

The other body is the Douglas Indian Association, though "only Tlingit-Haida has any material transactions," Duncan said.

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs recognizes 562 Indian tribes all together.

The proposed exemption applies both to sales and purchases, not including pulltab games. Duncan said the Tlingit-Haida Central Council doesn't do much selling, so it would primarily affect the body's purchases.

In reviewing the proposal, city and federal codes, Deputy City Attorney Barbara Ritchie concluded that the city is under no legal obligation to exempt tribal governments, though the rationale for exempting state and local governments from sales tax could also apply to federally recognized Indian tribes.

In a summary of the measure, City Manager Rod Swope supported the proposal. He wrote, "Tribal governments, like state and local governments, provide much needed services to the public within their jurisdiction and should be permitted to devote their limited resources to that end."

The Tlingit-Haida Central Council runs a variety of social service programs in many Alaska communities covering energy assistance, job placement and training, child care, education, elderly care and natural resource management. It is primarily funded by state and federal grants.

Tlingit-Haida Central Council President Bill Martin could not be reached for comment.

• Contact reporter Jeremy Hsieh at 523-2258 or e-mail

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