September 04, 2008
Lauren Long / The Post-Standard ANDY ANDERSON, of Springport, a member of Upstate Citizens for Equality, shows a sign to passing motorists during a rally
Wednesday outside the office of state Sen. Michael F. Nozzolio, R-Fayette, in Seneca Falls. Nozzolio and other officials met to show their support for
legislation that would require the collection of sales tax on cigarettes sold by Native American businesses.
About 50 people attended a rally Wednesday in Seneca Falls where speaker after speaker called on Gov. David Paterson to force Native Americans to pay sales
tax on cigarettes they sell at their businesses.
Lauren Long / The Post-StandardPHILIP KNAPP, of Varick, signs a petition Wednesday, outside the office of Sen. Michael F. Nozzolio in Seneca Falls, which
supports a Senate bill that would provide an alternative means of collecting sales tax from Native American businesses by requiring wholesalers to pre-pay
the tax. Click to enlarge.
They had a pointed message for Paterson, too.
"If you will not enforce the law, maybe we should ask that you be impeached," said Peter Same, a Seneca County lawmaker.
Collecting the sales tax, they said, would raise about $400 million a year in much-needed revenue for the state, which is in a budget crisis. It also would
create "a level-playing field" for non-Indian businesses that pay the tax, they said.
"Governor, do the right thing. Enforce the law, collect the tax," said Richard Ricci, a member of the Cayuga-Seneca chapter of Upstate Citizens for Equality.
The group opposes Indian sovereignty.
The speakers urged Paterson to enforce a 2005 law that requires Indian businesses to pay sales tax, but that statute remains knotted in the legal system.
Last year, a state Supreme Court judge in Buffalo enjoined the law from being enacted because the state Department of Taxation and Finance never created
a coupon system for Indians to get tax refunds on cigarettes they buy at Native American businesses. They're entitled by law to the refunds.
Morgan Hook, a spokesman for Paterson, said the injunction precludes the governor from enforcing the law.
The rally was held in front of the office of state Sen. Michael Nozzolio, R-Fayette, not far from where the Cayuga Indian Nation owns and operates a combination
gas station and store that sells tax-free cigarettes. The Cayugas have a similar business in the Cayuga County village of Union Springs.
The Oneida Indian Nation, which owns 12 combination gas stations and stores in Madison and Oneida counties, also refuses to collect taxes on its business
Nozzolio is sponsor of a new bill, passed by the Assembly and Senate, that would force Indian merchants to pay sales tax on cigarettes -- much like the
2005 statute. Paterson has yet to receive the Nozzolio measure for him to consider signing into law, Hook said.
Speaking last, Nozzolio blamed former Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer for not enforcing the 2005 law and said the state missed out on collecting some $1.2
billion the past three years by not following through on the measure.
"Think of the revenue, the jobs, the homes, the futures that were destroyed because of unfair competition," Nozzolio said.
Roger Mills, Cayuga County Legislature chairman, also urged Paterson to sign Nozzolio's bill, which he said would level the playing field between Indian
and non-Indian businesses.
Assemblyman Gary Finch, R-Springport, who was at the rally, said before Nozzolio spoke that he still has concerns that the proposed legislation is unenforceable
because there is no provision to give tax refunds to Native Americans.
"Without enforcement, it's air," Finch said.
The Cayugas oppose the Nozzolio bill because there is no measure for them to continue buying tax-free cigarettes from Native American merchants as is their
After he spoke at the rally, Nozzolio said it's up to the state taxation and finance deÂ´partment to cover that issue.
"I certainly believe that they can find a way to tax, regulate and enforce everybody else and I would think they could find a way to do this as well,"
Some speakers, including Richard Tallcot, chairman of the Cayuga-Seneca chapter of Upstate Citizens for Equality, and Ricci wove the threat of terrorism
in their remarks. Both speakers said Indians are smuggling cigarettes overseas and giving some of their profits to terrorists.
They offered no proof or particulars, and Nozzolio said he has "no evidence or knowledge of that issue."
Daniel French, a Syracuse lawyer representing the Cayugas, declined comment.