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TAXES ON LITTLE THINGS TAKE A BIG BITE IN WNY DEFICIT-CUTTING PACKAGE FUELS COMPLAINTS

The state has a lot of little things to thank Western New Yorkers for.

They're paying six to eight cents more than they did last month for a gallon of gasoline.

A leased car costs about $4 more per month.

They pay an extra $6 a month to park at downtown ramps.

And when they're ready to drown these sorrows in a beer, they pay an extra six cents in taxes for their six-packs.

When all has been said and paid for, the state will have gathered $1.8 billion from New Yorkers through a tax package that Gov. Cuomo signed May 25 to reduce a deficit estimated at more than $2.5 billion.

Many of the provisions took effect June 1.

Paul Fischer, who manages a Sunoco station on Transit Road in Depew, said he now charges an extra 5 cents for a gallon of gas. He calls the increase "Cuomo's nickels."

The average price for self-service regular unleaded is now between $1.07 and $1.09 per gallon in Western New York, according to Norman Grapes, president of the United Garage and Gasoline Retailers Association.

The hike in gasoline taxes will hurt the state's tourism industry, said Mark Gatley, executive director of the Niagara Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"That's going to have a major negative effect," Gatley said, particularly on families driving to summer vacations.

The summer season is Niagara Falls' busiest, with droves of vacationing families driving into town.

"Who's going to love New York when it's going to cost an arm and a leg to come here?" Gatley asked.

Distinction will cost New Yorkers as well, as the fee for auto "vanity plates" has increased by $10.

The state also now requires that sales taxes on auto leases be paid up front, instead of gradually over the term of the lease.

Gary Bauer at Colonial Ford Inc. in Tonawanda said that for someone leasing a car for two years at $200 per month, the average monthly lease payment is increased by $4.

The state also placed a surcharge on car rentals, under which a customer who rents a car for $120 per week, for example, will now pay $6 more in taxes.

Once people get to their destinations, they are paying more to park there.

Craig Barber, general manager of Buffalo Civic Auto Ramps Inc., said the tax package required his firm to tag both state and local sales taxes on to its parking fees.

The taxes caused fees at Civic's ramps downtown to go up by $6 per month and 10 cents per half hour.

It also raises the costs of sleeping in a top-flight hotel.

A 5 percent tax added to the price of hotel rooms costing $100 or more per night could hurt tourism, Gatley said.

"That's going to be a very painful tax," he said, explaining it could deter trade show and convention business from about seven hotels in Niagara Falls offering rooms in that price range.

Gatley estimated there are 1,500 such rooms in Niagara Falls during the peak summer season between Memorial Day and Labor Day, which could raise more than $500,000 in increased taxes this summer.

In Buffalo, five hotels are likely to be affected, said Karen Miranda, vice president of Convention Sales and Service at the Buffalo Convention and Visitors' Bureau.

Mrs. Miranda said the 5 percent increase would bring the total tax burden per room from 13 percent to 18 percent.

That means conventioneers who once paid $15.60 in taxes for a $120 room at the Hilton will now pay $21.60 in taxes on the same room.

It's a burden Mrs. Miranda said could hurt Buffalo's chances for attracting conventions.

Last year, she said, conventions brought $44 million to the city. This year, she projects the total will be $80 million.

The state also taxes a number of consumer items.

Smokers were hit by a six-cent increase in cigarette taxes. The hike brings the cost of an average 20-cigarette pack to $2.06, said John Pace of John's Cigar Stand in City Hall.

He said the tax has increased the cost of a 10-pack carton by 60 cents.

"It's going to be brutal," Pace said. "It's going to hurt the middle class."

Pace said his customers have complained about the increases, and every time taxes go up, "you lose sales."

Taxes on liquor have increased by 21 cents per liter for beverages with between 2 and 24 percent alcohol, and by 30 cents per liter for beverages containing more than 24 percent alcohol.

Jackie Saad, owner of Augustine's Discount Liquor Store on Hertel Avenue, said tax increases have forced her to raise the cost of a bottle of Canada Club liquor from $13.99 to $14.99.

She said the hikes forced upon her by taxes make her store less competitive against larger concerns. She's worried about staying in business.

"I'm fed up with the tax people," she said. "How could the small business survive?"

Consumers also will pay two cents in new fees on every can and non-returnable bottle of soft drink. The fee, which is not part of the state's container deposit charge, raises the cost of a six-pack of cans by 12 cents.

While customers have not complained about the container tax, Don Visiko, manager of the Beverage Discount Center on Hertel Avenue, said they are grumbling about the state's increase in taxes on beer.

"They're griping, but they're still paying," Visiko said. "They keep coming in."

People also will be pinched every time they try to "reach out and touch someone," as the tax package will cause New York Telephone bills to increase, said company spokesman Carmine Angelotti.

Angelotti said the package has raised the firm's business taxes by $140 million.

"Ultimately, the customer will be forced to foot the bill for this," he said.

He said he did not know how much the average monthly telephone bill will increase.

Some of the other provisions of the tax package include:

An extension of the state's 4 percent sales tax to services like interior decorating and janitorial work.

Surcharges on corporations, added trucking taxes and new taxes on insurance policies purchased from out-of-state companies.

Delays in state income tax cuts and in standard-deduction increases.

And increases in state registration fees paid by physicians and attorneys and in court fees. Physicians pay $65 more this year and attorneys $200 more. Court fees jumped by as much as $200 per action.

State Sen. John B. Sheffer III, R-Amherst, said some constituents have expressed "enormous dissatisfaction" with the taxes, particularly from people who are hit by several taxes.

Among others, he said, "there is a sense of relief" the Legislature did not raise wide-ranging taxes such as individual income taxes.

A third reaction, he said, has been the "general feeling that the state needs to do a much better job of living within its means . . . feelings which I strongly share."

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