One side says the whole fiasco over native cigarette and gasoline sales is about taxes; the other says it's a question of sovereignty. Which is it? Let's examine these two positions carefully.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, sovereignty is defined as "complete independence and self-government. A territory existing as an independent state."
This would mean that a sovereign nation - such as the Native American Nations - have the right to self-determination, the right to have an economy that supports some standard of living for its citizens.
Gov. George E. Petaki is in a bit of a tight spot. He is being squeezed by special interest groups. Imagine the frustration and embarrassment - being sued by convenience store and gas station owners to enforce tax collection. All this when you have a budget surplus that is into 10 figures!
Then there is the set of questionable numbers that Petaki is made to support. Even the state's taxation people swore to a figure in the $12 million range for gas taxes uncollected by the native nations and the U.S.Supreme Court cites $65 million in lost revenue for cigarette taxes.
Where's the beef? Why do we keep hearing the figure $300 million in lost tax revenue from the special-interest disinformation people?
Do the math. At 46 cents per gallon, the so-called lost gasoline tax translates into nearly half a billion gallons of gasoline per year. That means 166 tank trucks full of gasoline would be at reservations each day, 365 days a year!
Even Petaki knows that someone will see that the emperor's new clothes have a $223 million hole in the seat! Let's face it, nobody wants to look that foolish.
Just what does sovereignty mean? We take it for granted in this country. We have not had it challenged since the Civil War. We sure have challenged that of others.
Sovereignty means the right to have an economy and jobs for your citizens. There is more than one historian who will allege that the bombing of Pearl Harbor was at least partially caused by a threat to Japan's economy. It is also the fundamental reason that our drug programs will not work in South America. You cannot expect people to stop growing coca plants if you give them no alternative means of making a living.
Sovereignty means jobs, a reasonable standard of living and self-worth for reservation citizens. If they wanted to be on the public dole, they'd live in the city and collect welfare money. Lord knows that it pays better and I, for one, would rather sit inside a warm house, watching TV instead of freezing while pumping gas during an upstate New York winter.
What it is about is 1,200 employees of convenience stores and gas stations, their jobs and their families. Twelve hundred people who would rather work than accept a handout.
Where is the consistency in our society? I thought we valued hard work?
A recent newspaper article quoted federal government officals who said the way to get people off welfare is to create more jobs. Here, Gov. Petaki is doing just the opposite to please a special interest group.
This issue is not about selling cigarettes or gasoline. It's about the only industry besides gaming that has been able to take root on the reservations. Let's get creative and decisive.
Gov. Pataki, it's time for you to show that you have the vision to lead this state of ours. You gave away billions of dollars in economic development grants to real estate developers. Stop being a pretender and earn our respect. Lead with wisdom. Let's see some of the King Solomon School of leadership. Become a partner in growth, not the latest in a long line of oppressors.
Stop trying to prod people into fighting. We need a little less of the dictator stuff and more effort aimed at reconciliation. Pull back the troopers and the National Guardsmen that you have on call. It's a waste of tax dollars and it is an act of recklessness that threatens to enflame a situation already made needlessly tense.
It's time to create a solution! Create jobs for those hardworking people. Help them to gain measurable economic development. The question of whether they want to be in the gas and convenience store business is moot when it's the only show in town. What choice do they have?
A sustainable economy on the reservations is in everyone's best interests. It would even increase spending off reservations.
Create a solution that is a win-win. That is the sign of a great leader. It requires little creativity to threaten and bully. History is full of characters who took this path. Tough times make or break great leaders. They either rise to the challenge and demonstrate their quality or allow their pettiness to weigh them down to sink into the mire of notoriety.
Which will it be, George????
Schmitt, of Rochester, is married to a member of the Mohawk Nation.