Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Cigarette Tax Review to Decide Tribe Rights

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Cigarette Tax Review to Decide Tribe Rights

Article excerpt

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to review a ruling barring Oklahoma from collecting tax on cigarettes sold at a store owned by an Indian tribe will affect more than just that one store, opposing lawyers said Monday.

``This is for all the marbles,'' said David Miley, chief counsel for the Oklahoma Tax Commission. ``If we can prevail in this case, it will go a long way down the road to sorting out what right the state has in taxing its citizens.''

But Michael Minnis, attorney for the Citizen Band Potawatomi Tribe, said the survival of Indian tribes could be at stake.

``If the state can go after the tribes in court, it will wipe out the tribes,'' Minnis said. ``If the goal of the state is to end the Indian tribes, he is right about the importance.''

Immediately at stake is whether Oklahoma can collect taxes on cigarettes sold at the Shawnee store owned and operated by the tribe.

But Miley said the more important issue is, ``if the taxes are properly imposed, can the state bring a lawsuit to enforce those laws against the tribe?''

That question ``turns on sovereign immunity,'' Miley said. ``This case has nothing to do with the inner workings of the tribe. They can still have their elections, their ceremonies. All we are saying is that if they are going to do business in this state, they must play by the rules that everyone else does. And that involves paying taxes.''

The tribe owns and operates the store on land held in trust for the tribe by the federal government. The tribe has never collected sales taxes or the cigarette excise tax.

The tax commission in 1987 assessed the tribe $2.7 million for the sale and distribution of untaxed cigarettes. …

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