EDITORIAL: RESERVATION RACKET

You may have missed it, but New York got a brand-new Indian reservation this month — consisting entirely of two Upstate convenience stores.

A state appellate court ruled that the outlets, owned and operated by the Cayuga Indian tribe on nonreservation land, count as a “qualified reservation” for taxing purposes, thus voiding local efforts to halt the Cayugas’ illicit tobacco trade.

The tribe claims its “sovereignty” as a separate “nation” exempts it from paying state taxes on the cigarettes it sells.

Absurd? You bet.

Never mind that New York’s supposedly “sovereign nations” subsist on all manner of federal and state handouts.

The very notion of tribal sovereignty now serves in no small way as a cover for illicit commercial enterprises — and actively undermines the rule of law.

Longstanding treaties, to be sure, grant Indians the right to tax-free tobacco for their own use.

But New York’s tribes have parlayed that right — plus the state’s sky-high cigarette taxes — into a booming statewide trade in tax-free smokes illegally sold to non-Indians.

And the Cayugas are the least of the offenders.

Cayuga County DA Jon Budelmann, who’s moving to appeal the decision, says the two stores channel more than 6 million packs of untaxed cigs a year from the much larger Oneida reservation nearby.

Yet fully 275 million packs of cigarettes flowed through New York’s Indian reservations last year, depriving state and local governments of an estimated billion dollars in tax revenue — and pushing law-abiding merchants out of business.

What’s more, law-enforcement officials say that criminals with terrorist ties are actively involved in smuggling Indian smokes into the city.

The tribes argue, contrary to both state law and settled Supreme Court precedent, that such extracurricular commerce is fully within their sovereign treaty rights — and, thus far, a weak executive and skittish judiciary have let them get away with it.

But it would be easier to take their claims to nationhood, and tax exemption, more seriously if they weren’t already reliant on nontribal taxpayer dollars.

Indeed, New York’s Indian tribes have all the entitlements of regular state citizenship — schools, roads, etc. — except where those programs are superseded by even more generous federal handouts.

The federal Indian Health Service, for instance, oversees a broad range of health grants and benefits on top of Medicare and Medicaid.

Federally recognized tribes can also qualify to receive welfare money directly from Washington.

Good for them, we suppose.

But New York should expect its tribes to be, first and foremost, responsible, cooperative citizens.

If not, why should the state respect their “sovereignty” in the first place?

source: nypost.com

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