Thursday, January 28, 2010

Kicking Butts and Collecting Taxes

At 11 Am this morning, a wide coalition of small business and health advocacy groups will gather down at city hall to urge Governor Paterson to take strong and immediate action to close the Indian cigarette tax loophole-one that is costing the state and city $30 million a week in lost revenues. As State Senate Finance Chair Carl Kruger says, “For far too long, New Yorkers have watched one group openly and sometimes violently flout the laws of the state, and we’d watched legitimate business people struggle under the weight of unfair competition,” he said. “Those days are over. Collecting this tax will help alleviate the burden on all New Yorkers, level the playing field for the business community, and help plug the fiscal cataclysm that has resulted from seeing this tax go uncollected for too many years.”

Joining Kruger, is his colleague Jeff Klein-a legislator who has been in the forefront of the fight to collect the tax and help small businesses that are being killed by the black market. As Klein will tell the gathering today: "Collecting cigarette taxes is the easiest, most effective way of generating more revenue for our state and therefore sparing cuts to vital industries such as healthcare and education...”

The impact of the state's failure on minority kids and business will be a focus of Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada: ". “Worse, allowing Native American retailers to sell untaxed cigarettes has created a black market that increases cigarette access to children, particular Hispanic youngsters in poor and low-income communities. Furthermore, honest bodega owners and other small retail stores are facing the brunt of the loss of sales that are being controlled by this black market and Native American retailers...”

And it's important to recognize the health impacts of non enforcement-which is why Michele Bonan from the Cancer Society will be at the city hall today, and she will be joined by Robin Vitale who is representing both the Heart and Stroke Associations. Lending support to the health agenda-and the emphasis on the cheap availability of untaxed cigarettes to kids-will be a contingent of students from the Bronx High School of Medical Science and children from Project Aspire, a health education program.

But it is the rule of law that has really energized the elected officials-and the loss of revenue because of the state's failure in this regard. Senator Joe Addabbo will hit on this theme: "Health issues are the major reason to never smoke or to stop smoking. But now we have what is estimated to cost our state over a billion dollars a year in uncollected cigarette taxes from Indian tribes, due to non-enforcement of the law. Only in this case are Native American reservations considered sovereign nations. In every other way, Native Americans are treated as New York State citizens who are entitled to public schools, health care, other taxpayer funded services."

And finally Assemblyman Richrd Brodsky, joined by his assembly colleagues Felix Ortiz, Michael Benjamin, Jose Peralta, Nelson Castro, Marcos Crespo, and Jose Rivera, will strike a law enforcement note: “This is an issue of enforcing regulation that has gone by the wayside for far too long. The current fiscal crisis necessitates immediate action. New York State cannot continue to standby as laws are ignored and millions of dollars are lost.”

So the gauntlet is being thrown down to Governor Paterson. Delay is unacceptable as hospitals are being threatened with closure and teachers are facing layoffs. The time for talk is finished, we all need action, not words.

Where: City Hall Steps
When: 11 AM
Richard Lipsky (914-572-2865)