Attorney General Mike Hunter is seeking to join a Wagoner County lawsuit involving an electric power generating facility that is protesting its property taxes, in part because of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision involving tribal sovereignty.
In a motion filed Friday in Wagoner County District Court, Hunter seeks to intervene in a lawsuit filed last August by Oneta Power LLC.
“The Attorney General’s interest here is in defending the authority of the State and its localities to tax certain property within the bounds of the Creek reservation,” the filing from Hunter’s office states.
Oneta Power is challenging its 2020 personal property tax assessment imposed by Wagoner County Assessor Sandy Hodges as well as the ability of state and local governments to tax the business at all because of a Supreme Court ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma.
The company operates a power generation plant at 25142 E. 105th Street South in Broken Arrow.
A July Supreme Court ruling confirmed an appellate court decision that determined the state of Oklahoma did not have jurisdiction to try tribal members for major crimes when they occur within the historical boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation.
The decision has resulted in dozens, if not hundreds, of felony criminal cases being dismissed and subsequently refiled in either federal or tribal courts.
Oneta Power’s request for a declaratory judgment as to whether the Wagoner County government has the right to levy taxes since the facility is located within the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation would expand the McGirt decision to civil tax matters, too, if successful.
Hunter’s office claims it should be permitted to join the lawsuit against Oneta because the county assessor has different interests than that of the state.
“The state faces the loss of its sovereign power over all taxes against (Oneta),” the filing states. “In contrast, the Wagoner County Assessor’s defense of State power is only derivative of her interests in enforcing particular taxes.”
The Attorney General’s Office also has more expertise in defending the scope of state power over Indian reservations, according to the filing.
Hodges said in a March interview that the McGirt ruling did not apply to civil matters such as taxes.
A spokesman for Hunter said Wednesday that the Attorney General’s Office would be working with Wagoner County officials in its defense of the lawsuit, rather than assuming full control over the litigation.
“The attorney general’s position in this case is that McGirt doesn’t affect property taxes,” spokesman Alex Gerszewski wrote in an email to the World. “State and local entities may tax property on the Creek Reservation just as it has for over a century before the McGirt decision.”
Oneta Power, through its attorneys, has stated previously that it does not comment on pending lawsuits.