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WAMPSVILLE, N.Y. -- If local politicians have their way, a sales tax parity agreement between the Oneida Indian Nation and New York state will never come to pass, reported the Oneida Daily Dispatch.
On Tuesday, a Washington, D.C., attorney representing the Oneidas said, in his opinion, the Nation and New York were close to an agreement on sales tax. Eric Facer said the essential ingredients in a tax parity agreement have been laid out and he is optimistic a deal can be reached in the near future.
The Oneida Nation owns 12 Sav-On convenience stores around Madison and Oneida counties and currently does not pay any sales tax to New York State on retail sales. The main commodities in discussion are tobacco and fuel, which the Oneidas sell at a much lower price than non-Indian retailers.
Last May, state legislators brought the sales tax issue to the forefront, insisting Gov. Pataki take action on the issue. The tax parity format designed by the Nation is one used successfully by several other Indian nations in many Midwest and Western states.
According to the Dispatch, the Oneidas have outlined the following terms:
* The state will collect no taxes on reservation sales by Indians.
* The Oneidas will enact and collect taxes that are at least equal to state and local sales tax.
* The Nation will set prices for tobacco and fuels that are equal to the cost of the item to the Nation, including a tribal tax of 5 percent.
* The funds the Nation collects through taxes will be used for governmental services and won't be used to fund commercial enterprises such as the Turning Stone Casino and Resort.
* The state and the Nation will share information and submit to binding arbitration and judicial review to ensure compliance.
On Wednesday, Assemblyman Bill Magee, D-111, said the provisions of the proposed agreement are absurd. "It's a joke ... it's ridiculous," said Magee. "They say their prices will be comparable to other retailers, but the presence of their enterprises is so significant in Madison County that it's not going to send consumers to non-Indian retailers ... there will still be those people who will go to the Indians to save a few pennies."
The retail taxes collected by the Nation will be dedicated to government functions such as infrastructure, health, education and housing. Magee questioned how that part of the proposed agreement can ever be watched over, and to what infrastructure the Nation is referring.
Magee said as far as funding for housing, the Oneida Nation's White Pines Village was paid for through federal HUD money. The assemblyman added that he couldn't gauge support on the tax-parity issue from fellow legislators but did say he constantly tries to educate his colleagues on the Native American issues in his district.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said that the tax parity idea should be looked at, according to Magee. "I don't know how much support there is for this. All I can say is that gas taxes are used to build and maintain roads ... the only roads they need to maintain lead to the casino.
"In a sense, they're already collecting taxes, and now in Madison County, they've got an extra 1-percent edge in sales tax since the county passed that resolution this week."
Madison County Board of Supervisors Chairman Rocco DiVeronica agreed with Magee's stance. "Our position is very clear. We want the Oneida Indian Nation to be a part of the Central New York community and if they want to be a part of it, stop looking for ways to shift the tax burden to everyone else ... be constructive, and accept the responsibilities along with the benefits."
In the city of Oneida, the largest population center in the county, only two of the seven gas stations are non-Indian. DiVeronica told the Dispatch that no non-Indian convenience stores or gas stations are going to want to come into Oneida with the Nation as competition.
"Price parity or not ... it's not going to happen," said DiVeronica. "I know, you know it, and Eric Facer knows it. Price parity is too little, too late."
In 1995, there were 32 non-Indian gas station/convenience stores near or in the land claim area. Since that time, eight have closed and eight have been purchased by the Oneidas.
"A tax parity agreement with the Oneida Indian Nation is a bad idea for Madison County. Under such an agreement, the Nation's tobacco and fuel prices will still be lower than at non-Oneida stores.
"They have already eliminated the competition. The Oneida Indian Nation will still have most of the sales ... and now at higher prices."
"I wrote an open letter to Gov. Pataki," said Oneida Mayor James Chappell. "Basically, tax parity is a shame.
"The state is strapped for money, the loss of sales tax to the counties, and the cities like Oneida and Sherrill make it hard for us to service our citizens.
"And, it's really a consumer tax, not a tax on Indians."