Tribes Irked Over Proposed Tobacco Tax

tobacco tax FORT HALL, Idaho — The state Legislature is considering raising its tax on cigarettes by $1.25 per pack, but some lawmakers are trying to extend the tax to reservations as well. The Sho-Ban tribe said the proposal came out of nowhere, and a state-enforced tax would hurt their local revenue.

LeeAnn Avila works for the Fort Hall Health Education Department.

Her boss, Rebecca Washikie, said that a state-enforced tobacco tax could potentially cut the tribal revenue that pays for LeeAnn’s job, and five others.

“I think it’s out of our hands. But as a person who utilizes these funds, it would be devastating to our communities,” Washikie said.

The tribe has a 30 cent tax on commercial tobacco and that tax pays for anti-smoking education for kids and health care for people with smoking-related illnesses.

Washikie said a state-run program would not be the same.

“I think a lot of people in our community would hate to see us go, because they know that our compassion is out there,” Washikie said.

Tribal Chairman Nathan Small said he just received the legislation Wednesday and the tribe has not been able to figure out what effect the tax would have. He feels like he is being pushed around because the tribes were not consulted.

“They think we’re just taking this money and spending it all willy-nilly, but they need to know the realities of what we’re doing with our tax money,” Small said.

Tribal enterprises gets 50 percent of its sales from cigarettes. With high unemployment numbers already, the tribe is worried that this would crush the local economy and put a lot of people out of a job.

“I don’t know about sharing with them. Whatever they take from us is less of what we can give to our people,” Small said.

House Speaker Lawrence Denney said this tax should not come as a surprise — last year the big tobacco lobby threatened to sue the state and escrow its millions of dollars in smoking cessation funding because the tribes were not being taxed at all. He added that the attorney general said this tax would be in line with tribal sovereignty.

A report released Thursday by the University of Illinois at Chicago stated this tobacco tax could give Idaho the revenue boost it needs to cut its budget deficit.


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