McCall: If Indians don’t owe income tax, no one should

Budget & Tax

Ray Carter | September 20, 2023

McCall: If Indians don’t owe income tax, no one should

Ray Carter

One repercussion of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 McGirt v. Oklahoma ruling, which declared that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s Oklahoma reservation was never formally disestablished for purposes of federal major-crimes law, is that a legal challenge has since been filed claiming that American Indians living in areas affected by McGirt are exempt from paying Oklahoma state income tax.

House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, is not among those who support that argument.

“There is a case where a member of a tribal nation here in Oklahoma is asserting that because of the McGirt ruling that they should not have to pay income tax to the state of Oklahoma,” McCall said. “I don’t think that that is right.”

A case now before the Oklahoma Supreme Court, filed by Alicia Stroble, argues that all American Indians living on land affected by McGirt are exempt from paying state income tax—even if they live on privately owned land purchased from non-Indian owners.

Lower courts have cited McGirt to declare the reservations of several other tribes were never properly disestablished at Oklahoma statehood, including the historic reservations of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Seminole, and Quapaw.

As a result, the Stroble case could involve all people of American Indian descent living on land covering 42 percent of Oklahoma.

Stroble’s argument has received support from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, Cherokee Nation, Chickasaw Nation, and Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, which have all filed briefs in the case.

A joint motion of amici curiae filed by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma argues that the Stroble case will determine “whether the State may tax tribal citizens on Indian reservations in contravention of bedrock principles of federal Indian law.”

Gov. Kevin Stitt has been a vocal critic of those efforts, arguing all Oklahomans should live under the same laws.

The governor has called for a special session beginning Oct. 3 to cut Oklahoma’s personal income tax rate and to also pass a trigger law mandating that if a state or federal court finds that some individuals, due to their race, heritage, or political classification, don’t have to pay a state tax, then no Oklahoman will have to pay the tax.

Under that proposal, repeal of the income tax for tribal members would also repeal it for non-tribal members in Oklahoma.

In a recent post on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, Stitt said, “Some Tribal Governments think their members shouldn’t have to pay the Oklahoma income tax. If that’s the case, then no Oklahoman should pay income tax.”

During an appearance before the OCPAC Foundation in Oklahoma City, McCall said he agrees with Stitt on that issue.

“I told Governor Stitt myself, two years ago, that if it came to that I would introduce the bill myself—that we’re either all going to pay or none of us are going to pay,” McCall said. “That’s where I am on that. And I think that what’s fair for one Oklahoman should be fair for all.”

McCall said he also agrees with Stitt that it is time to cut the state’s personal income tax, noting Oklahoma has $4 billion in savings to handle any future economic downturn.

“I think we need to lower the tax rate here in the state of Oklahoma on the people in the state,” McCall said.

He noted that the personal income tax was cut in 2019 by a quarter-point, along with a reduction in the state corporate income tax. Because tax cuts are strongly correlated with strong economic growth, he noted tax cuts do not automatically translate into a reduction in state tax collections.

“It’s not surprising to me: We cut taxes in 2019 and 2020, and state revenues have continued to grow,” McCall said. “You let people spend the money the way they want to and everything else will work out just fine.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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