TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Tribal Council sustained Principal Chief Chad Smith’s veto of an act that would have provided monthly tax rebates to Cherokee Nation-licensed border smoke shops during an Aug. 10 meeting at the Tribal Complex.
By a 9-8 vote, the act didn’t get the required two-thirds majority to override Smith’s veto.
Sponsored by Dist. 9 Tribal Councilor Chuck Hoskin, the act would have protected the “viability of Cherokee Nation licensed smoke shops that are designated as a ‘border’ smoke shop” by giving the shops a monthly rebate.
According to the act, border shops would have received $1.50 back from the tribe for each carton of cigarettes sold. The rebate would have been in effect for 18 months or until a neighboring state’s tax rate increased, the act states.
Border shops are tribally licensed smoke shops located within 20 miles of the Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas state lines. Border shop owners have said they have lost business under the tribe’s current tobacco compact with the state, which raised cigarette prices at those locations by 61 cents per pack.
Border shops are also competing with smoke shops across state lines as well as Miami, Okla.,-area tribal smoke shops that offer tobacco products cheaper. Also hurting border shops is the recently enacted federal tobacco tax hike that saw taxes on a pack of cigarettes go from 39 cents to $1.01, with cartons jumping $6.10 higher.
“Those retailers experienced tax increase, many percentage points – hundreds of percentage points – overnight and we had a provision in the compact negotiated by the administration to rebate those funds,” Hoskin said.
Councilors Julia Coates, Meredith Frailey, Janelle Fullbright, Don Garvin, Chris Soap, Curtis Snell, David Thornton and Jack Baker voted against overriding the veto.
In other business, councilors tabled an item that Smith vetoed following the July council meeting – a resolution supporting the appeal of Councilors Jodie Fishinghawk and Tina Glory Jordan and their right as legislators to have individual access to legal counsel.
“The subject matter of this resolution deals with the (Chad) Smith vs. the Cherokee Nation Election Commission lawsuit. This is ongoing litigation,” said Glory Jordan. “I believe it would be prudent not to take any action on the veto override until this litigation comes to a conclusion.”
The council voted 16-1 to table, with Soap voting against it.
Councilors also amended the tribe’s fiscal year 2009 budget by adding $13.9 million for a total budget authority of $590.6 million.
The amendment reduced Housing Rehabilitation by $112,000, the Mortgage Assistance Program by $288,000 and increased environmental reviews by $112,000.
Glory Jordan said four items of federal stimulus funds were modified, including a reduction of $278,000 for Modernization, a reduction of $361,000 to Housing Rehabilitation and an increase of $543,697 for monitoring of the Tribal Employment Rights Office.
“What has happened is one (tribal) group got the money, and now we’re dividing out the money to the necessary groups that help housing,” Glory Jordan said.
Councilor Bill John Baker also attempted to amend the budget by using $1.5 million of the $3 million in the council’s contingency reserve to pay $333 bonuses to each CN employee, who he said received partial bonuses in 2007.
Baker said Smith used a line item veto on the bonuses in the 2007 budget, which the CN Supreme Court later ruled as unconstitutional. The court ruled earlier this year that the tribe’s constitution allowed only for the veto of an entire act, not individual portions of one.
In an Aug. 11 statement, Hoskin wrote, “While the court found that Smith violated the constitution, it failed to restore the employee bonus. According to Baker, Smith had indicated that he opposed restoring the bonuses. Baker’s legislation would have reinstated the bonus to the over 2,100 employees employed at the time of the 2007 veto.”
After lengthy discussion, the council voted 10-7 against adding the amendment to the budget to restore the bonuses.
Councilors Fishinghawk, Jordan, Bill John Baker, Joe Crittenden, Hoskin, Snell and Thornton voted in favor of the amendment, while Councilors Cara Cowan Watts, Buel Anglen, Jack Baker, Harley Buzzard, Coates, Bradley Cobb, Frailey, Fullbright, Garvin and Soap voted against it.
“Well, I am disappointed,” Bill John Baker said. “It is beyond my belief that this council is that selfish and that mean-spirited, that you would do our employees the way you’re doing them today. I think you’ve cheated them. I think you’ve robbed them.”
Councilors also approved:
• An application to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for FY 2010 funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides residential energy assistance payments to low-income tribal households,
• A $3.1 million application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the tribe’s Food Distribution Program in FY 2010, which provides food distribution to approximately 11,000 participants per month,
• Jason Terrell as an Editorial Board member of the Cherokee Phoenix,
• Bart Fite as a district judge of the CN District Court,
• Mitch Adwon as a member of the board of directors of Cherokee Nation Entertainment, LLC., and
• The CN to lease trust land to the Cherokee National Historical Society.
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