Cayuga Indian Nation land trust dispute Updated: 06/12/2009 06:04 AM By: Bill Carey
AUBURN, N.Y. -- The message from a host of Cayuga County officials was a simple one. If the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs agrees to allow the Cayuga Indians to place land into federal trust, tax losses for local schools and governments will be substantial and local businesses competing with Indian enterprises will be hurt.
“This is any business. Towing businesses. This is garages. Anything that can operate tax free on land in trust land can certainly affect the businesses here,” said Cayuga County legislator David Axton.
And the officials say they have numbers to back up their claims. Just last year, Cayuga and Seneca County authorities shut down cigarette sales by two service stations operated by the Cayuga Nation, claiming they were evading tax laws. The county has surveyed other convenience stores in the area and says most have seen increases in cigarette sales of 20 to 40 percent since that shutdown. They estimate they may have been losing millions in tax revenues prior to the action.
Cayuga and Seneca counties were the first to take action to disrupt cigarette sales by an Indian nation. They were hoping the message would be clear in Albany.
Governor Paterson has already signed legislation calling for collection of taxes on Indian cigarette sales and, in Cayuga County, they say a state facing billions in red ink should look at the potential windfall.
Cayuga Indian Nation land trust dispute The long running dispute over land claims by the Cayuga Indians and the insistence of Cayuga and Seneca counties on their rights to tax revenues is about to heat up again. At issue, the Cayugas move to have the federal government allow 130 acres of land to be put into federal trust, exempting it from local taxes. Our Bill Carey says the campaign to block the move is underway.
“You're talking $30 million from two little convenience stores . You multiply that, times the Smoking Joes, 110 of those, the Sav-Ons in Oneida, the Long Island, all the millions of cigarettes they're selling down there, it's about a billion dollars in taxes a year that the state's missing out on ,” said Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelmann.
Some counties have opened negotiations with various Indian groups hoping to settle land claims and tax issues. Cayuga County hasn't taken that route.
“We have no discussions going on in the legislature about any kind of settlement,” said Cayuga County Legislature Chairman Peter Tortorici.
The case against sovereignty and against placement of land into trust, they say, is clear.
The hearing by the Bureau of Indian Affairs is due on June 17th in Seneca Falls.