Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the Department of Interior's (DOI) Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to reject the Oklahoma-based Seneca-Cayuga Nation's land-into-trust application in Cayuga and Seneca counties. Schumer said that the out-of-state tribe's application to place 229 acres of land into trust comes after the BIA opposed a similar application five years ago, and without the consent from state or county stakeholders. Schumer noted that placement of this populated land into trust would seriously hurt economic development in the Finger Lakes and Central New York region because the surrounding counties and localities would lose out on tax revenue. Schumer also highlighted that the Oklahoma tribe operated a smoke shop in Seneca Falls where The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) recently seized a large amount of untaxed cigarettes and cash following an extensive investigation.
"The bottom line is that this is unwanted and counterproductive proposal that should again be promptly rejected by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. I urge the federal government to oppose any land into trust applications that do not reflect the concerns of local and state officials, businesses and residents who would be adversely affected by the land's tax-exempt status," said Schumer. "Communities across Cayuga and Seneca counties have not agreed to this land into trust bid and the Bureau of Indian Affairs must reject it because it would create a checker boarding of jurisdiction, and would harm Upstate New York's local tax base, its businesses, and its future economic development."
Schumer expressed concern that the tribe's bid for 229 acres of land into trust would have detrimental economic or traffic consequences for local businesses that would have to compete with tax-free businesses on neighboring trust land. Additionally, Schumer emphasized the unequal playing field that can result from the fact that trust land would be exempt from most local zoning strictures.
The Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma has recently submitted a request to the federal government for a 229 acre land-trust in Cayuga County to build a casino. A similar request by the Seneca-Cayuga tribe was denied five years ago by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Approval of this request would result in the land being tax-exempt, costing the local community approximately ten thousand dollars in revenue annually. Schumer stressed that it is the responsibility of the BIA to take into consideration the needs of the local community when making their decision.
Schumer also noted that after a months-long investigation, ATF seized hundreds of cases of cigarettes and $500,000 in a bank account during a raid of the Sky Dancer Smoke Shop service station operated by the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe. The investigation and raid resulted from a series of complaints relating to the store's disproportionately high rate of sales of untaxed cigarettes in comparison to nearby businesses. After the New York Attorney General's office issued a cease and desist letter in May 2012, the investigation was launched and the ATF found that the tribe had not been paying the state excise taxes required on the sale of tobacco products in New York State. Tribes are admitted to sell untaxed cigarettes, but only to their own tribal members and not off of their own tribal land. The Seneca-Cayuga's sale of tax-free cigarettes presents unlawful advantage over nearby businesses and inhibits reasonable competition.
Schumer's letter the head of the BIA appears below:
Dear Assistant Secretary Washburn:
I write to express my objection to the pending application by the Seneca-Cayuga tribe of Oklahoma to put approximately 230 acres of land in Cayuga County and Seneca Counties in New York into trust. In 2006, the tribe had made a similar application, noting its intent to build a casino and hotel on the land once it is taken into trust. That application was rejected in 2008, and this one should be as well.
For years, my position on the land-into-trust process has been clear: I am deeply skeptical of its suitability for parcels of land in the more populated eastern areas of the country, as opposed to often-times less populated western parts of the nation, where this policy was originally targeted and is more appropriate.
For instance, in areas in the Western United States, there are wide parcels of land which are taken into trust. Borders are clear, and given the vast spaces involved, there is at times little interaction between residents of the tribe and other inhabitants. Jurisdictional and resource management conflicts are minimized, and the economic effect of tax-free zones on the local communities is negligible. That is not so in a more populated area such as Cayuga or Seneca Counties. The jurisdictional checker boarding of trust land that occurs in these areas cannot be what was envisioned by the trust process.
It is also important to note that debates over the use of the land in question are ongoing. Indeed, on January 16th of this month, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) conducted a raid and seized cigarettes being sold illegally by a Seneca-Cayuga owned store, located on a parcel included as part of this application in Seneca County.
I believe the decision to take land into trust is an important one that will have both positive and negative consequences for all parties involved. Because the decision is so important to the Nation, the State of New York, and the local communities, I generally feel that a mutually negotiated agreement is preferable to a federally-imposed decision. In this case, there has been no negotiated agreement at all; instead, it is my understanding that the State of New York and the counties affected by this trust application all object to its approval.
Therefore, I ask that you reject the application unless and until all parties involved are able to reach a mutually-beneficial global settlement -- one that resolves issues of sovereignty, taxation, and that avoids the long litigation battle that is likely to accompany any acceptance of this land into trust made in lieu of a global settlement.