WASHINGTON -- Taxes cannot be levied on honoraria to a shaman or spiritual leader for religious services, but could be assessed on per-capita payments from gambling revenues to tribal members, under a proposal for taxing Native Americans by the Internal Revenue Service.
The thorny issue of taxing Native Americans and Alaska Natives had the potential to cause a rift in the good relations the Obama administration built with tribes during the president's first term. Tribal members chafed at IRS audits on their finances and at demands for tax payments on some benefits for and payments to them.
At a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing in June, tribes complained that the IRS was enforcing tax laws without taking into account unique aspects of their sovereign governments. In one case detailed in written testimony, an IRS agent ruled tribal members who benefited from government programs should be taxed on the part of the benefit paid for by gambling revenue.
Amid the complaints, the IRS and Treasury Department met with tribal representatives to hammer out some proposed "guidance" on what is taxable and what is excluded under existing laws.
"The ability of tribes to provide for the general welfare of their citizens is truly critical to the self-determination of tribal governments," Hawaii Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka, the committee's chairman, said at the June hearing he convened on the matter. "This is especially important given one out of every four Native people in the U.S. live in poverty."
The Treasury Department unveiled the proposal Dec. 5, when more than 500 tribal leaders were in Washington for the fourth White House Tribal Nations Summit.
Neal Wolin, deputy Treasury secretary, said the proposal was drafted with tribal input.
"A key challenge for tribal nations is economic development. Many of your communities face poverty, high unemployment and lack of good paying jobs," Wolin told leaders at the summit. "Effective immediately, tribes can rely on this guidance and have comfort that programs that meet these guidelines will be respected by IRS."
The guidance is not yet final, and comments can be submitted in writing through June 3, 2013.
The proposed guidance generally exempts from taxation assistance from a government program that is not compensation for services. Benefit payments cannot be lavish or extravagant or discriminate to benefit government leaders.
The Treasury Department said some examples of exclusions from taxation are housing payments to help individuals and families acquire modest homes or apartments, aid for disaster victims, medical or dental assistance and services of a shaman or medicine men or women for health and spiritual and cultural reasons.
General welfare programs funded by casino revenues are exempt, but per-capita payments from gambling revenue are taxable income.
Dante Desiderio, executive director of the Native American Finance Officers Association, said the proposed guidance has generated a lot of interest from tribes. A webinar held by his organization on the proposal drew some 150 people, he said.
Reaction has been largely positive, particularly to recognition by IRS of the "unique governing responsibility of tribal governments," Desiderio said.
The proposal allows tribes to define financial need, Desiderio said. It recognizes tribes may spend money to feed entire communities as part of a ceremony, feast day or cultural event and would exclude that benefit from taxation.
"The idea is that we as tribes don't base our benefits and services on financial need," he said. "It's the need of the community."
Also on HuffPost:
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)
Commenting on Occupy Wall Street and the redistribution of wealth on ABC's "This Week" recently, <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/week-transcript-speaker-john-boehner/story?id=14892830&page=5#.TswHj3NPkqV" target="_hplink">House Speaker John Boehner said</a>: <blockquote>Come on. The top 1 percent pay 38 percent of the income taxes in America. You know, how much more do you want them to pay? Well, I'll tell you what: Let's take all the money that the rich have, all of it. It won't even put a dent in our current budget deficit, much less our debt.</blockquote>
Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.)
Rep. Larry Bucshon <a href="http://gcdailyworld.com/story/1786079.html" target="_hplink">said in an interview</a> with a local Indiana paper that the tax code needs to be simplified, and he invoked the Republican party line that the wealthiest Americans are creating jobs: <blockquote>I'm not for raising taxes on one sector of the economy. I think right now when you have a high unemployment and you raise taxes on the higher income earners, and they are not going to create any jobs. Arguing right now that the higher income earners aren't paying their fair share is not true. The data shows that. The top 1 percent of income earners are paying about 38 percent of the taxes. The top 10 percent are paying about 70 percent of the taxes.</blockquote>
Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.)
During an House Education and the Workforce Committee markup, <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEArFmRDtrw&feature=youtu.be" target="_hplink">Rep. Mike Kelly made a plea</a> to "stop railing against the really wealthy": <blockquote>I've got to tell you something. As a guy who has had to pay his own way his whole life, I am greatly offended by the idea that somehow somebody in Washington knows how to spend my money better than I do. That somebody in Washington knows how to regulate me to the point where I can't even borrow money anymore. You want to talk about people who are afraid? The small banks. They're scared to death to do anything. Why? Because their government has such onerous regulations on them anymore that they don't know about the rules and the regulations that have been put through or haven't even been written. So when you want to sit back and talk about these wealthy, evil people ... you want them to spend money? Make their future certain.</blockquote>
Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.)
Commenting on President Barack Obama's proposed jobs bill in September, Rep. Scott DesJarlais also <a href="http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:uHUJCTcKdokJ:www.wbir.com/rss/article/183289/2/TN-lawmakers-reaction-mixed-on-Obama-speech-+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-a " target="_hplink">used the "job creators" line</a>. The congressman argued that wealthy Americans are "shouldering the burden" by "already paying the lion's share of taxes, and taxing them more is going to hurt jobs."
Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas)
Two months ago, a handful of local Democrats protested outside Rep. Blake Farenthold's office in opposition to the proposed Buffett Rule Act, which would allow taxpayers to make donations with their income tax returns to help pay down the federal public debt. The bill was named after billionaire Warren Buffett, who has said he should be paying more in taxes. GOP lawmakers responded by suggesting wealthy Americans voluntarily donate extra money when they file their tax returns. "I think everybody is paying their fair share," <a href="http://www.kiiitv.com/story/15591779/local-democrats-stage-protest-on-congressman-farenthold" target="_hplink">Farenthold said</a>, adding, "And before we look at raising taxes on anybody, we've got to get the government spending under control. There's no point in pouring more money into something when it's hemorrhaging out the other end."
Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.)
In March, months before the Occupy Wall Street movement arose, Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle <a href="http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2011/03/half_applaud_half_jeer_at_rep.html" target="_hplink">expressed sadness</a> at the class warfare in America. "The middle class is being screwed," said the congresswoman at a town hall meeting, but added that the wealthy aren't to blame. "Why do we have class warfare?" she said. "Why do we want to punish the rich? They worked hard for their money."
Rep. John Fleming (R-La.)
Rep. John Fleming made more than $6 million last year, according to the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>. In September on MSNBC, he <a href="http://www.rawstory.com/rawreplay/2011/09/tea-party-rep-only-400000-left-after-i-feed-my-family/" target="_hplink">used himself as an example</a> of why he opposes raising taxes on millionaires: <blockquote>The amount that I have to reinvest in my business and feed my family is more like $600,000 of that $6.3 million. And so by the time I feed my family, I have maybe $400,000 left over to invest in new locations, upgrade my locations, buy more equipment.</blockquote> MSNBC's Chris Jansing responded that the average American makes more like $40,000, $50,000 or $60,000 a year, to which Fleming responded: <blockquote>Again, class warfare never created a job. That's people that will not get jobs. This is all about creating jobs. It's not about attacking people who make certain incomes. You know, in this country most people feel that being successful in their businesses is a virtue, not a vice. And once we begin to identify it as a vice, this country is going down.</blockquote>
Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.)
In August amidst the heated debate over raising the debt ceiling, Rep. Dan Benishek <a href="http://www.petoskeynews.com/news/pnr-benishek-delves-into-debt-ceiling-vote-federal-budget-during-forum-20110824,0,4643945.story" target="_hplink">addressed federal spending</a> at a public forum in Michigan. The congressman said that he would like to ease up on taxing corporations' foreign earnings and that he disagrees with raising taxes on oil companies. <blockquote>I think oil companies pay their fair share. I can understand where the oil company wants to deduct the cost of drilling a well. That's one of the tax breaks for oil companies, the subsidies. They get to deduct the cost of the well the year you drill.</blockquote>