Idaho considers taxing reservation cigarette sales

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Relationships among Idaho’s five recognized Indian tribes and descendants of white settlers who settled the state are once again the focus at the 2011 Legislature, with Republican lawmakers starting a push to tax cigarettes sold on Indian reservations — over tribal objections. House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, said Wednesday his bill will help prevent Idaho residents from traveling to reservations just to get a good deal, while leveling the playing field for off-reservation retailers that bear the full burden of the 57 cent-per-pack state tax. Currently, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe in northern Idaho only charges a 10 cent tax per pack, while the Nez Perce Tribe near Lewiston charges 24 cents.

More than just a tax policy bill, however, Denney’s push yet again highlights how relationships between Idaho’s original residents and the largely white population that began migrating here in the early 19th century continue to produce powerful emotions — and suspicion among Indians that the dominant state government is still trying to exert unilateral influence over how their sovereign nations conduct their affairs.

“It’s sending us the wrong message, by dropping a bill without consulting us,” said Coeur d’Alene Tribal Chairman Chief James Allan, who said no Indians were consulted on this bill. “We seem to be taking a step backward again.”

The Idaho Indian Affairs Council, which includes legislators, tribal leaders and a representative of Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s administration, voted unanimously Wednesday to send a letter to the House urging that a hearing on Denney’s bill be delayed at least until tribal officials have a chance to weigh in.

Idaho’s tax adds $5.70 to a carton of 10 packs, while the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s tax only boosts the price by $1.00.

This isn’t the first Indian issue to surface in this year’s Legislature: Last week, Allan’s tribe was rebuffed when it sought state authority for tribal officers to arrest non-Indians on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation without permission from the local sheriff in Benewah County. There’s been a dispute since 2007, something that appears destined to continue after last week’s razor-thin 34-35 defeat of the tribe’s bill.

And in recent years, Idaho and its tribes have also sparred over how to share proceeds from the state’s 25-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax from sales on reservations. That dispute was remedied by a 2007 agreement brokered by Otter.

The cigarette tax bill — it’s now due a hearing in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee — would assess cigarettes at the wholesale level, before they’re sold to reservation retail outlets.

At its introduction Wednesday, Denney told committee members that the measure was drafted by the Idaho attorney general’s office specifically not to run afoul of U.S. Supreme Court rulings that protect tribal sovereignty.

He insists it’s not an effort to boost Idaho tax revenue, since the tribes would be able to claim a tax credit for reservation sales, but a push to make sure off-reservation retailers don’t face a disadvantage when state residents head to Indian country to stock up on cheap smokes. Denney does expect that the total number of cigarettes sold on Indian reservations — which was just over 324 million individual cigarettes in fiscal year 2010 — would decrease,

Not surprisingly, anti-smoking advocates who plan to introduce a measure later this session to hike Idaho’s cigarette tax by $1.25 per pack are looking favorably at Denney’s legislation, at least initially. Brent Olmstead, who lobbies for the Coalition for Tobacco-free Kids, said anything that increases the cost of cigarettes — from reservation retailers or those elsewhere — would likely be a disincentive for smokers.

What’s more, Denney’s measure could also undercut an argument that convenience stores are certain to employ in their fight against the anti-smoking coalition’s proposed $1.25 per pack hike: That such a move would drive more buyers onto Indian reservations, to take advantage of lower prices.

The leaders of tribes who over the last two centuries often have borne the brunt of decisions made by the region’s white newcomers insist Idaho should manage its tax and health care policy without encroaching onto Indians’ right to manage their own affairs.

“It just sounds like another creative way to stick it to the tribes,” said Helo Hancock, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s lobbyist, of Denney’s bill.

source: Associated Press

Similar Posts:

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!