Let's Get On With It'

N.Y. appellate court allows resumption of tax collection on tribal sales

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- The Seneca Nation lost its bid yesterday to block the state of New York from taxing tobacco sales to non-Indians on its territories, reported The Buffalo News.

Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter vowed to continue the fight before the state's high court.

In a one page decision, the five-judge Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Rochester denied the nation's bid for a preliminary injunction and vacated the temporary restraining order Associate Justice Jerome C. Gorski of that court granted the nation on June 9, said the [image-nocss] report.

"The administration will move expeditiously to collect the taxes," Josh Vlasto, a spokesperson for Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, told the newspaper.

The intermediate appellate tribunal ruled on the basis of motions filed by Seneca nation attorney Carol E. Heckman and Assistant State Attorney General Andrew D. Bing.

State Supreme Court Justice Donna M. Siwick on June 8 lifted a restraining order that has prevented the state from collecting $4.35 on each pack of cigarettes sold by any Indian tribes in the state to non-Indians.

The full appellate court ruled only on the Senecas bid to prolong the restraining order Gorski issued.

"The Seneca Nation will, of course, seek review of this decision by the state Court of Appeals," Porter said after the decision was released.

"For more than 200 years, the Seneca Nation has thwarted New York State's efforts to steal our land, destroy our sovereignty and tax commerce in our territories. In our treaties with the United States, we gave up most of our land to retain the 'free use and enjoyment' to conduct business in our remaining territories free from the state's taxes.

"New York will never collect a cent of revenue from tobacco sales occurring in our territories, and revenue projections so indicating are foolish."
The tax fight dates back to the late 1980s.
According to information provided by state officials to Justice Siwek earlier this month, the state loses at least $110 million a year in tax revenue based on tax-free cigarette sales by Indian businesses.

"The on-again, off-again enforcement of tax collection in Indian sales of cigarettes to non-Indian customers in New York is on again--for now--following [the] ruling," said James Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS), in a separate press statement.

NYACS filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing the Senecas' legal challenge.

"This extends a long string of federal and state-level court rulings that New York is entitled to collect taxes when non-Indian customers buy cigarettes from tribal enterprises," Calvin added. "The law is the law, and it needs to be enforced fairly in the interest of small businesses, taxpayers and public health. Let's get on with it."