Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter defended the tribe’s tax-free cigarette sales on the reservation and shared how the Nation is an economic powerhouse in upstate New York on Fox Business News Channel’s “Varney & Co.” this morning.
View Mr. Halbritter’s interview with business journalist Stuart Varney here.
Varney opened the discussion by questioning the Nation’s ability to sell cigarettes on its reservation without New York State’s $4.35-a-pack sales tax—a front-page news item for The New York Times on February 22.
“Our government doesn’t charge or collect New York sales taxes,” explained Halbritter.
He also confirmed the Nation produces cigarettes in the tens of thousands per day with plans to increase its production and sales. “The state has been able to prevent regular wholesalers to sell to Indian nations now,” Halbritter said.
“…We’re a sovereign nation. So, we have that ability to create a situation where we can provide this product,” Halbritter said. “And it’s of course very competitive; it’s free-enterprise.”
Halbritter explained how the free market allows the Oneida Indian Nation to provide for its members.
“We tried poverty for 200 years, and we decided to try something different,” Halbritter told Varney. “Cigarettes are distasteful to us; we’d rather do different business. But this is something that does allow us to help fund programs for our people, for our members, for our children—all of the money goes to benefit all of our members in education, health and housing. That really helps our people get out of the misery that we’ve been in for centuries.”
Halbritter pointed to the tribe’s new film production company “that does some animation and some live action,” its world-class golf courses, its Turning Stone Resort Casino—winner of the 2007 Condé Nast Johansens “Most Excellent Resort” award for all resorts in the U.S. and Canada, and gas stations as examples of the Oneida Indian Nation’s efforts to diversify.
In total, Oneida Indian Nation enterprises employ 4,777 employees and pay $161 million in wages and benefits. Spending for 2010 reached $285 mllion.
Varney continued to question the Indian Nation’s right to sell tobacco products tax-free and whether New York State could impose taxes on the cigarettes, if he purchased a truck-load of 5,000 cartons on the reservation and proceeded to haul them to New York City.
“That would be a good sale,” Halbritter joked, adding, “They have their own government, and they can decide what they want to do.”
“Is there a stand-off coming between you and the feds?” Varney asked.
“Look, we’ve created 4,500 jobs—almost 5,000. We are an economic power in the central part of New York State,” Halbritter said. “We are a government. Governments can solve these problems by sitting down at the table and resolving them. We’re willing to do that; we’d like to do that. I think there’s a great opportunity here.”
Varney noted the Fox News Business Channel requested Halbritter come on the show not only because the Nation is making its own cigarettes, but because the reservation’s neighbors were prospering as a result of the Nation’s capitalist enterprises.
“And that free enterprise system can even get better with some cooperative discussion with the state of New York,” Halbritter said, “and there’s an opportunity to do that.”