Tax Commission snuffs out tribal tobacco rules for now

By Michael McNutt Published: May 31, 2007
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A state rule that angered tribal leaders for what they said circumvented tobacco compacts with Oklahoma has been pulled back because "it was not a good idea,” the main compact negotiator for the state said Wednesday.

Arbitrators are deciding two separate matters on whether the state violated tobacco compacts by having a state agency pass emergency rules to crack down on cigarettes being sold with the wrong, cheapest tribal stamps, state Treasurer Scott Meacham said.

In 2006, the Cherokee Nation requested arbitration over one rule and the Osage Nation filed a federal suit over another approved by the state. A federal judge ordered the Osages and the state to follow their compact and settle the matter by arbitration.

Diane Hammons, general counsel for the Cherokee Nation, said she expects a ruling by late summer or early fall.

A ruling on the Osage Nation's lawsuit isn't expected until after that, probably early next year, Principal Chief Jim Gray said.

The rules' demise
The Oklahoma Tax Commission last year passed two sets of rules designed to prevent tribally licensed tobacco stores from improperly selling cigarettes with the cheapest tax stamp.

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Possible outcomes in arbitration

If the state loses...

•Tribes would win their point that the state cannot pass a rule to change a tribal compact; as a result, a new compact probably would have to be negotiated, state Treasurer Scott Meacham said.

If the state prevails ...

•The state would prove its case that cigarettes with the cheapest tribal tobacco stamps cannot be sold anywhere but specific areas along the state's border, Meacham said.

The tax structure
Nontribal retailers must use tobacco stamps that cost $1.03 per pack.

Tribes with a tobacco compact pay an 86-cent rate.

Tribes without compacts are to pay for a 77-cent tobacco stamp on each pack of cigarettes.

Reaction
Osage Principal Chief Jim Gray said he still questions whether the state-tribal compacts — with different levels of tribal stamps — are effective. He prefers a formula that has one rate, similar to compacts in place for 10 years before the current compacts were negotiated "I don't know of a single person affected by this compact that is happy,” he said.

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