State Senator Carl Kruger has launched a fresh salvo in the battle to collect taxes from tobacco sales on Native American reservations, this time firing off a letter to a judge presiding over a case in which the legality of the collection is being evaluated.
State Sen. Carl Kruger, D-Brooklyn, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, contends that the lawsuits filed by Native American retailers have no basis in law and are needlessly adding to New York’s already troubling budget deficit.
Kruger, a long-standing champion of the state’s efforts to collect taxes from Indian retailers for their sales of cigarettes to non-Indians, added his voice to the debate as part of a letter to U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara, one of the judges overseeing the tax case.
“No matter how they twist the facts, the facts are the facts,” Kruger said of the Senecas and other upstate tribes during an interview with The Buffalo News.
A Seneca Nation leader responded by suggesting that Kruger’s comments are part of a larger effort to make Indians the “scapegoats for decades of mismanagement in Albany.”
“I guess we are waving the flag if that means exerting and protecting our sovereignty,” said Tribal Council Chairman Richard Nephew.
Kruger’s letter came to light during a federal court session in which Arcara indicated he would extend his temporary restraining order against the collection of the taxes until after a hearing next week.
The senator has been the most vocal champion of collecting these taxes, most notably when he put forth an alternative budget proposal amidst political stalemate in November. At the time, Kruger said collecting taxes on reservations would add $1.6 billion a year, a number criticized by state agencies as being vastly inflated.
“If people smoked that much there would be a big black cloud over the City of New York that would blot out the sun,” Budget Division spokesman Matt Anderson told the Times-Union.
Governor Paterson, though, is concerned about a violent reaction from tribes if the state attempts to enforce the legislation. Similar enforcement battles in 1992 and 1997 included violence such as tire burnings and confrontations between State Police and and tribal members. Late last year, it was estimated that a showdown of that sort would cost $2 million daily.