January 11, 2003
Hon. Sheldon Silver
Albany, NY 12248
Hon. Joseph L. Bruno
909 Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Hon George Pataki
Albany, NY 12224
Dear Speaker Silver, Senator Bruno and Governor Pataki:
In The State of the State address and corresponding response it was asserted that it is time that New Yorkers hear the reality of our state's finances and brace for higher taxes to come. However you conspicuously omit some things.
First, the state's policy of enforcing its lawful tax laws on only non-indian businesses. The New York Court of Appeals in Snyder v. Wetzler and a unanimous United States Supreme Court held in Department of Taxation & Fin. of N.Y. v Milhelm Attea & Bros., 512 U.S. 61, 129 L. Ed. 2d 52, 114 S. Ct. 2028 that the State may place minimal burdens on Indian retailers and tribes to collect taxes from non-Indians on Indian Land. With the exception of actions taken in the Spring of 1997 nothing has been done to collect this revenue. Some reports have placed this lost revenue in the billions. Governor Pataki acknowledged the need for legislative approval of his policy of non-enforcement in his press release of May 22, 1997, where he stated "Let me make my message to all Indian Nations clear: It is your land, we respect your sovereignty and, if the Legislature acts as I am requesting, you will have the right to sell tax-free gasoline and cigarettes free from interference from New York State." The governor even introduced a bill to effect this change. In a July 18, 1997 article by Tom Precious entitled "Pataki's sales tax plan for Indian reservations gets pushed aside" that appeared in The Buffalo News, Speaker Silver was quoted as saying that this is a "complex issue" and that "[b]efore we deal with it, we have to take a significant look at it, so I don't think anything is going to happen on it this year." You were correct in fact nothing has happened for the last 6 years. A number of times in your tenure the legislature passed and the governor allowed to become law various bills that increased the taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products to help fund health care programs in the state as a result of the ailments associated with such products. However, the state's policy of non-enforcement undermines this admirable intention.
Then in response to our fiscal crisis the governor introduces and the legislature authorizes a "Compact" with the Seneca Nation of Indians to open three casinos. This ill written compact is fraught with legal infirmities, does not provide money to the localities that have to provide emergency services to them, and again favors Indians over non-Indians. In less than a week the City of Niagara Falls has run out of money to provide the necessary increased police patrols. The city and its schools are further harmed by the removal of the property on which the casino stands from the real property tax rolls. This also affects the County of Niagara in that it will loose its share of property taxes and sales taxes. Of which the regular extension of the extra 1% sales tax authorized to various counties have seemed to become permanent with nothing more required than a perfunctory asking. If this is truly the path for this state's economic revival allow all to compete subject to zoning laws. It is only when competition on an even playing field is alive and well will we once again prosper. Then there will be taxpaying entities fueling not only our economy but reducing our individual tax load.
We urge you on behalf of ourselves and the members of Upstate Citizens for Equality to enact legislation that will resolve these inequities and not to enact any tax increases or new taxes until such time as the taxes already in place are enforced equally.
Scott E. Peterman
Connie and Richard Talcott
Chair, Cayuga-Seneca Chapter
Daniel T. Warren
Founder, Niagara Frontier Chapter