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Editorial: Spitzer must be firm on Indian taxes
Law is the law, and continued delays will only hurt region's businesses
August 20, 2007
Asked by the O-D Editorial Board last week about progress on collecting taxes on sales to non-Indians at Indian businesses, Gov. Eliot Spitzer came up with an unusual description.
He spoke a bit about the dynamics surrounding the proposed change, and said that state officials and Indian nations have held some "marginally useful" conversations on the topic. And, as Forrest Gump would put it, that was all he had to say about that.
The self-proclaimed steamroller had clearly put himself in idle on the Indian sales tax issue.
That's unfortunate. Continued delays hurt businesses that compete with Native American stores that traditionally do quite a business in selling cigarettes and gasoline.
Continued delays hurt the Indian businesses themselves, which are operating under artificially conducive circumstances that at some point have to end.
And continued delays hurt the very rule of law that is so central to our democracy. If government does not enforce the law in one instance, then why should it be expected to enforce it in another? That's a slippery slope down which society should never slide.
Spitzer is savvy enough to know what happened a decade ago when Gov. George Pataki sought to collect the taxes. Native Americans blockaded highways, confronted police and burned tires in protest. Pataki quickly backed down.
Still, the law is the law. The state has enough resources at its command to prepare for any short-term problems as the transition is made. As Spitzer himself noted, the taxes don't need to be collected directly from Native American businesses, but could be collected at a different point in the economic chain — from wholesalers, for example.
Spitzer's administration needs to draft a plan, communicate that plan and then enforce it. It should also recognize that a number of Upstate tribes, including the Oneidas, Mohawks and Senecas, have much to lose if disruption occurs. The public's not going to spend time or money at a casino managed by a tribe whose members are confronting police. That's important leverage for the state.
The state budgeted some $200,000 in sales-tax collections from Native American businesses. While a tiny fraction of the overall state budget, it's still real money. More important, it's symbolic of the action Albany needs to take to create a level playing field for businesses and to enforce the law.
If Spitzer can accomplish that before year's end, that would be much more than "marginally useful."
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