Senecas Fight Cigarette Tax Bill in Albany

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Senecas Fight Cigarette Tax Bill in Albany

ALBANY, N.Y. -- If New York state legislatures get their way, the Seneca Nation of Indian will be forced to forfeit a majority of its revenue derived from cigarette sales.

As a result, Seneca leaders will lobby Gov. David Paterson’s office in an effort to block the Legislature's latest attempt to tax sales of tobacco products by American Indian tribes, reported the Albany Times Union.

Earlier this year, the legislature passed a bill aimed at taking away tribal stores’ competitive advantage and bringing in an estimated $400 million annually to the state. If passed into law, it would bar manufacturers from selling unstamped — or untaxed — cigarettes to any agent who has not provided a certification, under penalty of perjury, that the cigarettes will not be resold untaxed.

"Why do the Indians have to carry the burden of the poor spending habits that happen in Albany?" Tracie Brown, operator of VIP Gas in Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, told the paper. She said the tribal politicians have to convince Paterson not to go along with the legislation, which they say will ruin the Seneca economy and hurt western New York.

James Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, told the paper the bill passed by the Assembly in June and the Senate last week is “watered down” compared to the original version.
“I would like to see more teeth in the legislation,” Calvin told the paper. “It relies on the tax department to take an affirmative step to do something, to create a form for wholesale distributors to use to show they do not sell untaxed cigarettes to the tribe.”

The paper reported the capitol meeting will be attended by the Seneca Nation’s attorney general, Robert Odawi Porter, and members of its foreign relations committee, including tribal council President Richard Nephew and J.C. Seneca, operator of Native Pride Smoke Shop, a gasoline station in Irving, Chautauqua County, that also sells tobacco products.

According to a report released by Seneca, its tobacco sales top $313 million a year, 60 percent of it from Internet sales and tourists. That money, they say, goes back into the economy off-reservation.

"While millions of unstamped cigarettes flow into New York state every year under the noses of state legislators, especially in New York City, the Seneca Nation stamps all its cigarettes, and its vendors collect a fee from customers that supports Nation government programs," Nephew told the paper, adding that 1,000 jobs could be lost under the proposed law.