Seneca Object to New York Cigarette Tax Law

December 18, 2008

Earlier this week we mentioned New York Gov. David Paterson’s new plan to tax cigarettes sold on tribal lands, and why it is probably unconstitutional. By barring wholesalers from selling cigarettes to tribal retailers who sell to non-Indians, the state would impose a burden on retailers in another sovereign jurisdiction while also illegally disrupting commerce with the Indian tribes.

These facts have not gone unnoticed by the Senecas in upstate New York:

In letters to Paterson and President George Bush, Snyder said the law tramples on rights guaranteed the tribe under the 1794 Canandaigua Treaty, including the right to “free use and enjoyment” of its land.

“We expected more from this governor,” Snyder, surrounded by tribal officials, said during a news conference on the nation’s Cattaraugus Reservation, about 35 miles south of Buffalo.

Although Snyder declined to detail the actions tribal leaders might take, he ruled out a repeat of the tire-burning protests that shut down a 30-mile stretch of the New York State Thruway in 1997, during a previous attempt by the state to collect taxes from wholesalers who supply Indian retailers.

Definitely not a tribe to mess with. In another article, the Senecas note that they have made arrangements for non-New York wholesalers to keep them supplied in case Paterson succeeds in cutting off wholesales with the new law:

J.C. Seneca, a tribal councillor and owner of Native Pride, has taken steps to insure his business survives, despite expected state sales tax collection attempts.

Seneca recalled Tuesday when the same issue came to the forefront in 1997. It is also when he said he ”took action” to make sure there were supply lines and delivery to his stores, despite what the state does. He developed his own brand of cigarettes to manufacture, which he supplies to 200 other Seneca businesses.

”You have to put the puzzle together,” said Seneca about what he learned in 1997 and that that could reoccur.

”It’s an economic war,” he said, adding Senecas believe they are a partner in New York, with the state having a choice to confront them or work together.

The law signed Monday by Gov. David Paterson will prohibit manufacturers from selling tobacco products without a state tax stamp to any wholesaler that doesn’t certify the cigarettes won’t be resold tax-free by New York tribes, a practice that has caused conflict between Indians and the state for years.


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