Seneca want exemption from NY cigarette tax

Buffalo, New York (AP) August 2010

The Seneca Indian Nation is seeking a federal order to stop New York state from following through with plans to tax reservation cigarette sales, tribal leaders said last week.

Lawyers for the western New York tribe filed a request for a temporary restraining order in U.S. District Court that would temporarily block the state from enforcing new tax laws on the tribe. A hearing was not immediately scheduled.

Gov. David Paterson’s office had no comment on the filing. Taxation and Finance Department spokesman Brad Maione said the department would move forward with plans to implement the tax beginning Sept. 1.

Under the plan, the state would collect its $4.35 per pack sales tax on cigarettes sold by Native American retailers to non-Native customers. The tax is expected to generate about $200 million a year.

The Senecas argue in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday that the plan infringes on their federally protected rights and would force the nation to abandon its own regulatory system in order to enforce the state’s. The nation imposes its own tax of 75 cents per carton to fund health and education programs.

“Unfortunately, the nation now finds itself in the position of needing emergency relief from the federal courts to keep the state from implementing this illegal tax scheme,” President Barry Snyder said.

The 7,800-member tribe includes 140 nation-licensed cigarette retailers.