When Gov. David Paterson signed a bill last December intended to enforce the collection of taxes on cigarettes sold at Indian-owned stores, it seemed we finally had a governor with guts. Three previous governors had refused to do it, despite promises. Turns out Paterson, too, is all talk and no action.
When Gov. David Paterson signed a bill last December intended to enforce the collection of taxes on cigarettes sold at Indian-owned stores, it seemed we finally had a governor with guts. Three previous governors had refused to do it, despite promises.
Turns out Paterson, too, is all talk and no action.
That’s disappointing. It is the lack of follow-through — such as agreeing to an outrageous 9 percent budget hike this year after his tough talk on state spending — that has led to the governor’s miserly approval ratings. In this case, Paterson would be well advised to reconsider: He’d be perfectly within his right to enforce the law. As this state’s top leader, he should do so.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that the state could legally collect taxes on tobacco and gasoline sold by American Indians to non-Indians. Since that decision, however, governors have balked at enforcing the law.
Mario Cuomo, governor at the time of the court ruling, never bothered to try. His successor, George Pataki, made an attempt, but backed off after members of the Seneca Indian Nation burned tires on the state Thruway in 1997. That led to confrontations with state police and forced the closing of a section of the Thruway. The state prepared again to collect the tax in 2003, but Pataki delayed it to “seek more public input.” Nothing happened. Pataki vetoed a similar bill in 2006.
Then came Eliot Spitzer, who promised during his campaign to collect the tax, and even included an anticipated $200 million from it in his state budget. But Spitzer’s career went up in smoke before anything happened.
Paterson made a big deal of the tax collection last year when he signed a bill passed by the state Legislature that was designed to prohibit the wholesale sale of cigarettes in the state without a state tax stamp. But that began to unravel in February after a state Supreme Court justice blocked the collection until the state came up with a system for coupons exempting Indians from the tax.
Paterson’s office said at the time the state was considering legal options, but apparently the option taken is to duck and cover.
That’s not good enough for state Sen. Michael Nozzolio, R-Fayette, who has been pushing Paterson on the initiative, which he co-sponsored. He issued a statement last week praising U.S. District Court Justice Carol Amon for her decision reaffirming the legislation — and knocking Paterson for his inaction.
“In a time when our state is struggling, it is unconscionable that the governor refuses to follow the law he signed to collect these taxes and grant some relief to our hard-working taxpayers,” said Nozzolio, whose 54th District includes northern and eastern Ontario County and all of Wayne County.
What’s the problem? Officials should not be intimidated by the threat of American Indian protests similar to 1997. There are laws to deal with civil disobedience, and anyone who breaks those laws should be dealt with accordingly. Paterson should make that clear.
The governor also should devise the recommended coupon system and collect the tax. It has been estimated that New York could garner about $400 million annually if it enforced the law — not to mention the fact that legitimate tax-paying merchants are being hurt or even run out of business by unfair competition.
It’s up to Paterson. He’s either a leader or not.