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Nation touts $1.1 billion economic study

June 24, 2008
While state lawmakers try to come up with yet another way to collect state sales taxes on cigarettes sold to non-Indians on Native American reservations, Seneca Nation of Indians officials are preparing to unveil their $1.1 billion economic study detailing the Nation’s growth, revenues and job creation today.

The Nation will release the study, called, ‘‘The Seneca Nation Economy: Its Foundations, Size and Impact On New York State and the Western New York Region.’’

Nation officials, along with Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster will join Alphonso O’Neil-White, BlueCross and BlueShield president and chief executive officer, for the Buffalo event.

As they do that, state lawmakers may take up an issue that has plagued them for about 20 years — how to cash-in on some of those Nation revenues, or the ones individual Senecas make by selling untaxed cigarettes at retail stores on their reservation. A deal being worked on by state lawmakers reportedly would mean tobacco manufacturers could not legally sell cigarettes to wholesalers who do not agree to stop selling tax-free cigarettes to Indian retailers. Wholesalers would have to have certificates available to the state Taxation and Finance Department and manufacturers saying they are not supplying to a tax-free retailer.

Further details were not available on the latest legislation Monday, when state lawmakers were originally expected to vote on the matter.

Monday was expected to be the last day the state legislature would be in session in Albany. Session is now expected to last until midweek, however, when lawmakers may vote on the legislation. Neither state Sen. Cathy Young or Assemblyman Joe Giglio’s office had comments on final versions of the bill to allow for tax collections they are expected to vote on later in the week.

If a bill is approved by state lawmakers before they leave for summer recess, it is uncertain whether state Gov. David Paterson will move to enforce it. State Gubernatorial Spokesman Morgan Hook could not be reached to comment Monday. Thomas Bergen of the state Taxation and Finance Department said Monday he had not yet seen a bill as of Monday afternoon.

Previous attempts to collect the tax drew protests from the Nation and its members, who say state sales tax collections on their land violates treaties the Nation has with the federal government.

Instead of the protests this time, they have other plans.

The state recently increased the tax on cigarettes, from which some Indian retailers saw benefits.

Wolf Pack Tobacco in Salamanca, for instance, has seen an increase in customers since the new tax went into effect, a spokeswoman said.

‘‘There’s quite a few more,’’ said a spokesperson for Salamanca’s Red Nation Tobacco. She said the biggest draw has been phone orders from customers in bigger cities like New York. It may be worth the call for some, she said. For instance, she said, the store sells a carton of Marlboro cigarettes for $31.60 on the reservation. She has heard some customers report paying as much as $60-$70 per carton elsewhere.



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