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Tribes Upset by Bloomberg's Cigarette Tax Remark

August 24, 2010

The Seneca Nation of Indians is none too happy with a plan by New York State to start taxing cigarettes sold by the tribe, and a recent remark by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg did not help matters.

The Seneca and several other Native American tribes held a rally on the steps of City Hall on Monday to protest Bloomberg’s comment about some dubious advice he recently gave to New York State’s embattled governor, David Paterson.

“I’ve said this to David Paterson,” Bloomberg told the Daily News. “I said, you know, ‘Get yourself a cowboy hat and a shotgun. If there’s ever a great video, it’s you standing in the middle of the New York State Thruway saying, you know, read my lips, the law of the land is this, and we’re going to enforce the law.’”

The Seneca, along with the Unkechaug, Oneida and Mohawk nations, see the cigarette tax as a threat to Indian sovereignty, and the mayor’s attitude as all too typically cavalier. The tribes are demanding that the mayor apologize or resign, which he has so far declined to do.

Meanwhile, the cigarette tax hike is set to go into effect on Sept. 1, yet another attempt to plug the state’s gaping budget hole. The state is hoping the tax hike will bring another $440 million into its coffers, in part by requiring that all cigarettes sold to the reservations have a “cigarette stamp” affixed. With tea parties so popular these days, maybe it’s time for a kind of reverse tea party, where Native Americans dress up as colonists and dump some cartons of cigarettes into New York Harbor.

The Seneca Nation has filed a motion with a federal judge in New York to keep the state from imposing taxes on the historically tax-free cigarettes sold by the reservations. That’s probably the most advisable course of action for now on the burning question of the cigarette tax.

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