Editorial: Tax tobacco sales on reservations

"Gov. Eliot Spitzer should waste no more time and begin collecting the tax on the sale of tobacco to non-Indians by Native American enterprises.

Enforcement of the law is long overdue.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that New York state could collect taxes on tobacco and gasoline sold by Native Americans to non-Indians. But past governors haven't had the courage to do it. Mario Cuomo, defeated by George Pataki in 1994, didn't even try. In 1997, the state prepared to collect the tax, but backed off after clashes erupted between state police and members of the Seneca Nation, who protested by blocking a portion of the Thruway in western New York. The state prepared again to collect the tax in 2003, but Pataki delayed it to 'seek more public input.'

In 2005, state legislators included a provision in the budget to begin collecting the tax in March 2006. Pataki agreed, but later reneged, saying he wanted to delay it another year. Since he didn't plan to seek re-election, that laid the problem on his successor.

Last week, Spitzer told the Buffalo News that he intended to move ahead — a week after state Supreme Court Justice Rose Sconiers issued an injunction barring the collection of the tax on the grounds that the state had no mechanism in place to do it. According to the News, the 2005 law called for the distribution of special coupons to allow Indians to continue buying the products tax-free for their personal consumption. Since those coupons have not been issued or distributed, Sconiers argued, the law 'is not in effect' and cannot be enforced by the state."

Get the Story:
Editorial: Governor, collect tax on tobacco (The Utica Observer Dispatch 1/23)

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