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Moving up sales tax hike called unlikely State legislators cite procedural problems

An effort to get state legislators to approve moving the start of the Erie County sales tax increase to Jan. 1 appeared to be in trouble Monday.

Heading into Wednesday's special State Legislature session, a spokesman for Gov. George E. Pataki, who sets the agenda for the meeting, was unable to say whether the sales tax would be considered.

State tax officials, however, said imposing the increase so soon would be difficult, while state lawmakers said the special session called by Pataki would focus solely on new measures to combat illegal gun trafficking.

But State Sen. Dale M. Volker, R-Depew, said Monday he believes that the Legislature might take up a measure to boost the total tax in the county to 8.75 percent, from 8.25 percent, but not the one that Giambra wants.

Legislators, Volker said, could act on the measure they planned to pass early next month, making the increase effective Jan. 15.

Volker said taking action for the higher tax to kick in Jan. 1, as Giambra wants, would be "tantamount to impossible."

Over the weekend, the county executive had said putting the increase into effect two weeks earlier than planned would raise an additional $2 million for the county.

Volker and Assembly Majority Leader Paul A. Tokasz, D-Cheektowaga, dismissed that figure as inflated, since January traditionally has been slow period for retailers and others who charge the sales tax. Volker, who suggested that the $2 million had been "picked out of the air," estimated a more realistic figure would be less than $1 million.

Also, state tax officials have not begun notifying vendors that the tax will rise Jan. 15 -- so cash registers can be calibrated correctly. Thomas Bergin, spokesman for the state Department of Taxation and Finance, said the notices cannot go out until the State Legislature enacts the increase.

Under a deal cut last month, the State Legislature is expected to approve the county sales tax increase next month during the first week of its legislative session.

During Wednesday's special session on gun issues, Volker said, the Legislature might approve the tax increase, effective Jan. 15 -- not Jan. 1, a date that he said would be logistically impossible for the state.

Tokasz also noted that the County Legislature's request to raise the tax specifies Jan. 15 as the effective date. Changing it to Jan. 1, he said, would require new votes by the County Legislature.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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