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Cuomo Says He'll Back Spitzer to Collect Taxes from Senecas

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – The chess game between the state and the Senecas over sales tax collection continues, with the State Attorney General now ready to make a move.

So far, the state has not backed away from its vow to collect sales taxes on products sold by the Senecas to non-Indians. And there has been only a thin veneer of optimism that the two sides can reach a compromise.

Earlier this month, Governor Eliot Spitzer met with Seneca President Maurice John to talk about ways to resolve the tax issue. But the Senecas soon announced their plan to collect thruway tolls from the state.

Another, reportedly good talk, was held last week. But the next day, State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said he is ready to legally back Governor Eliot Spitzer in his decision to collect the taxes.

Cuomo did not say when or if that action would come. The 2007 budget includes $200 million from the anticipated sales tax collections. Cuomo said, if believes the state has a good legal argument.

But State and Seneca officials are saying they still hope to end the argument outside the courtroom - and without violence.

According to a spokesperson for the governor, both sides are expected to meet again sometime in early June. But will that be soon enough to stave off another Seneca counter-move?

J.C. Seneca is a tribal councilor and co-chair of the Nation's foreign relations committee. In an earlier interview, he said the council will soon be weighing its options at its next session on June 9.

The Senecas recently voided the 1954 easement that gave the New York State Thruway Authority permission to pass through Seneca land.

Ten years ago, the Senecas burned tires and shut down that section of thruway in a clash with the state over then pending tax collections. Former Governor George Pataki abandoned his pledge to enforce the tax collection law.

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