A measure that would have Indian tribes collect tobacco taxes and split the take with the state has support now in both legislative houses at the Capitol.
But Assemblywoman Francine Delmonte said she realizes her legislation's effect may be limited since the biggest tobacco merchants, the Seneca Nation, have made clear they are not interested in any revenue-sharing ideas.
When she signed onto a bill last week that had already been introduced in the State Senate by Sen. Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat, Delmonte said the plan seemed like a creative solution to a long-standing problem. But with a new split between the Senecas and the state over the tribe's contention the New York Thruway is intruding on Indian land, Delmonte acknowledged her bill may now have its limits.
"Maybe legislation like this can be used as a tool for negotiations," the Niagara County Democrat said.
Retailers insist the Senecas Thruway claim involving a 1954 Thruway easement is all about seeking leverage with the state over the tobacco tax issue.
Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer has pledged to collect the taxes, and the new state budget assumes the state will get about $200 million in new collections on sales of gasoline and cigarettes by Indians to non-Indians.
Seneca officials would not respond to calls Friday.
The Thruway dispute comes at a time when the Seneca Nation is going to market to try to sell $160 million in taxable and tax-exempt bonds to help fund several projects, including a new administrative building. With the bonds already rated below investment grade by a Wall Street rating agency, the latest Thruway controversy -- coupled with the ongoing state tax dispute -- has the potential to turn some investors off.
But Rob Porter, special adviser and counsel to the Seneca Nation, insists the dispute will have no effect on the sale because the bonds will be secured by the tribe's casino revenues. "So it has nothing to do with unrelated governmental issues," he said.
The Seneca Nation last week told federal officials it had hired E. Brian Hansberry as interim president and chief executive officer of its casino company.
Hansberry had been general manager of the Senecas Niagara Falls casino and hotel. He will make $360,000 in salary and get a "retention bonus" this year of up to $495,000, according to a filing the tribe's casino company made last week with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.