Thursday, January 28, 2010

Smoking Out the Guv

The Observer reports on this morning's press conference on the Indian tobacco issue-and highlights the defiant Carl Kruger: "A gathering of elected officials sought to add pressure on Governor Paterson to begin collecting taxes for cigarettes sold to non-American Indians on reservations. The best line on the issue, which is sure to ignite strong resistance from the Seneca, came from state Senator Carl Kruger as he distilled the reticence to act on the issue down to this:

"Statements that came out of the executive were things like, 'We don't want to collect the tax for fear that we will shed a drop of blood. Well you know what, when an attempt was made, which lasted about 10 minutes, to collect the tax, some folks went out on a road and set some tires on fire. So everybody took a quick retreat, and the taxpayers of the state of New York lost billions of dollars."

Kruger went on to question why the threat of violence should deter the governor from acting. Referring to the actions that the Seneca took in the 1990s to block the thruway, the senator said: "I don't know one homeowner on Long Island or Nassau or Westchester County that wouldn't go out on the Sprain Brook or the Long Island Expressway and burn some tires if they didn't have to pay their property tax. And if they attempted to do it, they would be arrested."

The strong show of support for the tax collection gives considerable hope to beleaguered store owners-precisely because they know that if they have to rely exclusively on the governor's fortitude, they are sunk: "The highly controversial issue is one the governor now supports, although he has not included any expected revenues in the budget, so it's unclear just how committed he is to fighting to collect the taxes. (Lobbyist Richard Lipsky, who organized the event, said the governor had made a "rhetorical shift.") The electeds at the event, including state Senators Jeff Klein, Pedro Espada and Joseph Addabbo along with Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, were pressuring the governor to begin the legal steps needed to start collecting the tax as the budget season gets underway."

Now we'll see just how much of a gauntlet the legislature's willing to throw down in the upcoming budget negotiations. If they insist, as Senator Kruger says he will, that there will be no budget agreement absent the governor's concrete steps to close the Indian loophole, than real progress is possible. Stay tuned.