Seneca Nation Testifies at Cigarette Tax Collection Hearing in Manhattan

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Seneca Nation Testifies at Cigarette Tax Collection Hearing in Manhattan

NEW YORK -- Less than two weeks after New York Gov. Paterson expressed his desire to collect excise taxes from sales of cigarettes on Native American reservations, J.C. Seneca, co-chairman of the Seneca Nation Foreign Relations Committee, and Robert Odawi Porter, senior policy advisor and counsel, urged the New York Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations this week to honor Indian treaties as they relate to collecting taxes on Native American tobacco sales within the nation's borders.

Addressing the hearing panel, Seneca said the recurrent question of "'Why doesn't the state collect taxes on commerce taking place on Indian lands?" has a simple and definitive answer: It lacks the authority.

"For over 200 years, New York State has tried to steal our lands, assert jurisdiction over what lands we have left and impose its taxes on us and our activities," Seneca said in a statement during a hearing on the issue. "In response, and in our defense, the United States promised to protect us from any effort by the state to impose its taxes in our territories.

"Your oaths of office require you to uphold American laws and treaties. Whether you do so or not is up to you, but I assure you that we have no intention of compromising any of our treaty rights that have already been bought and paid for through the relinquishment of most of our aboriginal rights."

The Seneca leader detailed the Seneca Nation's effort to build its economy across its five Western New York sovereign territories, which the nation says contributed more than $1.1 billion to the statewide economy in the past decade.

The Seneca nation is the fifth-largest employer in Western New York, providing jobs for some 6,300 persons through its government, gaming and hospitality, gasoline and tobacco retailing and emerging private sector ventures, the group said in a statement. Hundreds of those jobs are held by non-Senecas.

Seneca told the panel the nation's tobacco and motor fuel business segment, which generated an estimated $313 million in 2007, contributed nearly $200 million in spin-off dollars to the state economy.

"Even though the nation's tobacco trade is not subject to state taxation, the ripple effects of the nation's trade spill into the state and regional economy as the Seneca government and citizens spend net tobacco profits in the off-territory economy," Seneca noted.

According to a recent study by Harvard economist Jonathan Taylor, Seneca tobacco sales in 2005 generated $195 million in state gross domestic product. The study concluded that for every $1 of gross profits accrued to the nation's tobacco businesses, the state economy gained $1.67, the nation said in a statement.

The Seneca leader also detailed the nation's efforts to oversee and control sales and distribution of tobacco products. In addition to voluntary reviews from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Enforcement, the nation has implemented an anti-counterfeiting stamping program. The nation also established its own tobacco business enforcement commission, which oversees compliance to retailer authorization and minimum pricing regulations, and a ban on sales to minors.

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