Questions About How SCOTUS Ruling's Affect Oklahoma Taxation

Monday, November 1st 2021, 6:31 pm

TULSA, Oklahoma -

There are new questions about how the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on tribal jurisdiction affects taxation in the state.

Attorneys representing the state say some tribal members may have received tax refund checks but those refunds were in error if based on the McGirt ruling.

"The McGirt decision…is specifically limited to federal major crimes and in no way impacts the state's ability to levy either income taxes or sales and use taxes," said Ryan Leonard, an attorney representing Oklahoma.

Leonard is Governor Kevin Stitt's special counsel challenging McGirt and trying to overturn the decision that Indian reservations in eastern Oklahoma were never disestablished.

Leonard says right now there are about 5,000 cases pending before the Oklahoma Tax Commission, where tribal citizens argue they don't have to pay state income taxes because of McGirt.

"This idea that some folks are going to pay taxes and some folks aren't just does not work," said Leonard.

Both Tulsa and Owasso expressed similar concerns in an argument filed with the US Supreme Court last week.

They argue some tribal citizens living in Tulsa received up to three years of back taxes, some with refunds as high as $30,000.

Sara Hill is the Attorney General for the Cherokee Nation and says they do not offer tax advice, and she's not aware of any Cherokee citizens receiving back taxes, but for years the tax commission hasn't taxed Native Americans who live and work on trust land.

"That was never controversial in the years coming up to McGirt,” said Hill. “It was after the McGirt decision that suddenly Oklahoma got very concerned about taxes."

Leonard though says those tax exemptions only apply to a small number of tribal citizens who do not receive state services.

Services that Leonard says are provided mostly statewide.

"In Oklahoma…we don't have isolated reservations in a far off corner of the state," said Leonard.

The Cherokee Nation sent its own amicus brief to the US Supreme Court last week, asking it not to overturn McGirt.