Cindy Ballagh, left, owner of a Traveling Smoke store on the Seneca Nation Cattaraugus Reservation, rallies in support of Cayuga Nation’s right to engage in free trade and commerce, in front of the Onondaga County Courthouse in Syracuse, N.Y., Thursday, March 25, 2010. (AP/Heather Ainsworth)
More than 100 people protested outside the New York Appeals Court today during a hearing on whether the state has the authority to tax Indian cigarettes.
Inside the courthouse, prosecutors contended that the state can both impose the tax, and prosecute those who sell tribal cigarettes to nontribal people without taxing the smokes, according to this Associated Press story by John Kekis and Michael Virtanen.
But Cayuga Nation attorney David DeBruin said that would violate tribal rights.
Outside, the Seneca Nation’s Arthur Montour Jr. told protesters that “We are being attacked today. We are nontaxable. We are not under the thumb of New York state. It’s up to us to decide. There is nothing to negotiate, no matter what those black robes say. We will be there to defend.”
As the AP reports:
More than one-third of the cigarettes sold in New York by licensed agents go without tax stamps to Native American merchants, according to state officials. If all were stamped and taxed, New York would have collected $825 million more in 2008. Seneca and Cayuga county officials estimate the Cayugas’s LakeSide Trading stores in Union Springs and Seneca Falls owe $485,000 in state excise taxes.
Laws requiring taxes on the cigarettes have been on the books for years, but the state never enforced them. Now, with New York looking to make up budget shortfalls due to the recession, the taxes are being eyed anew.
A ruling by the court is expected next month.
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