Senecas Lobby Against Proposed Cigarette Tax
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ALBANY — Days before the New York Legislature will try to stem growing budget deficits, leaders of the Seneca Nation pressed Governor Paterson’s office to veto a bill that would require collecting millions of dollars in taxes on cigarettes now sold tax-free by tribes.
Nothing was resolved yesterday, spokesmen for the tribe and Mr. Paterson said.
Although Indians may sell goods to other Indians free of sales taxes, most Indian sales are to non-Indians. Tribes argue that treaties dating to the 19th century allow them to avoid state government sales taxes. But state officials going back to the 1980s have argued sales to non-Indians are taxable and the money should be collected.
In the balance hangs at least $400 million in annual revenue. On Tuesday, the Legislature will return to Albany at Mr. Paterson’s call for an emergency economic session to deal with a proposal by the Democratic governor to cut $600 million in spending to help stave off a $6.4 billion deficit projected for the 2009-2010 fiscal year. New revenue, such as the cigarette tax collection, could head off at least some cuts that are strongly opposed by the powerful public worker unions and the Working Families Party.
“We continue to ask New York state to honor its treaties,” the chairman of the Seneca Nation’s Legislative Council, Richard Nephew, said. He said the taxes would cut into sales, which in turn would hurt the tribe’s employment of 5,000 people and other economic benefits it spins off in western New York.
“The state still comes out ahead,” Seneca Counsel Robert Odawi Porter said. “It just doesn’t go into the Albany trough.”
The tax bill, passed by the Senate and Assembly, has yet to be sent to Mr. Paterson. When it is, and that could happen Tuesday, the governor will have 10 days to sign or veto the measure.