Seneca Nation targets NY Thruway in tax disputehttp://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gupvJwryE3RHk3cz4kKjQYHKEDKQD95MNS100
By CAROLYN THOMPSON 21 hours ago
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) The Seneca Indian Nation is preparing to collect tolls on sections of the New York State Thruway that run through reservation land to protest the state's plans to tax cigarettes destined for their discount smokeshops.
The tribal council also has authorized Seneca President Barry Snyder Sr. to spend $1 million to hire "emergency response personnel" to protect the Seneca people against potential action by the state and to ask incoming President Barack Obama for federal troops if necessary.
Snyder outlined the plans Tuesday in response to Gov. David Paterson's Dec. 15 signing of a law that would disrupt the Senecas' $313 million retail sector by enforcing tax collections on cigarette wholesalers who supply reservation businesses.
The law, set to take effect next month to help the state close a budget deficit, would likely raise the cost to Indian retailers and force them to charge prices more in line with non-Indian competitors.
"Our concern as nation leaders justifies taking any and all prudent actions to protect and defend the nation's economy and the way of life of the Seneca people," Snyder said.
Those actions include charging $2 for every vehicle that drives the Thruway, Snyder said, with the system for collecting the tolls to be determined.
In April 2007, the 7,300-member tribe rescinded a 1954 agreement that allowed construction of the Thruway along 300 acres of Seneca territory in the Cattaraugus Reservation. The tribal council said the pact, which paid the Senecas $75,000, had not received the proper federal approvals.
Since then, the Senecas have unsuccessfully been billing the state $1 per vehicle passing through its land on the Thruway. The tribe is doubling the fee in the wake of the newly passed law.
"The state and the Thruway Authority are trespassing on our lands and have not paid us for the right to do so," Snyder said. "The council and I believe that the state should not be allowed to continue to operate an illegal business the New York State Thruway upon nation lands at the same time that it seeks to destroy a significant component of the nation's economy."
The Senecas have taken aim at the Thruway before, including setting tire fires that shut down a 30-mile stretch in 1997 and led to clashes with state police.
Snyder said the peaceful nation is not looking for a fight now but must act to protect itself and a retail sector that employs 1,000 people.
A spokeswoman for Paterson, who took office last spring, said the governor wants to forge relationships with all of New York's Indian tribes.
"The tax collection issue is one of several issues that the governor would like to address as he moves forward to negotiate with all of the Indian nations in good faith," a statement by spokeswoman Marissa Shorenstein said.
While supporters believe collecting taxes from the Indian nations in New York could generate hundreds of millions of dollars, Paterson said the experiences of other states show the figure would probably be slightly more than $62 million a year. The state excise tax is $2.75 per pack.