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Niagara Gazette (01/20) (04/15)


Seneca reservation is on dangerous ground

By Frank Parlato Jr.

Contrary to what the billboards read-- in Niagara Falls, at least - the excitement is not here!

We might call it backlash.
As readers of the know, the new Seneca Reservation, located in what was once downtown Niagara Falls, NY, has seen more than a dozen tax-free businesses sprout up during the last three years. 
These businesses compete directly with longstanding, tax- paying businesses, who, by the way, foot the bill for infrastructure which is maintained to keep Seneca operational.  Tax- paying businesses pay taxes to pave, clean, and plow roads, and maintain water and sewer lines that lead to tax- free territory-- where Seneca operates businesses tax- free.
An eagle was shot by an arrow made with eagle feathers.

Let us cite two examples:

1. The Como Restaurant.
This landmark Italian restaurant, opened and operated by the Antonacci family since the 1920’s, has paid property tax, sales tax and income tax for 80 years. The family has seen the population of Niagara Falls rise and fall. Through good times and lean, they maintained an excellent quality, fine Italian restaurant, and, over the years, paid millions of dollars in taxes to this city and state, and, indeed, hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes each year.
Seneca, on the other hand, opens a brand new Italian restaurant, builds it with tax- free materials, employs people who work outside New York State employment laws, and
federal equal opportunity laws, and, of course, Seneca pays no property tax, purchases its
products without paying sales tax, pays no taxes on utilities, or, for that matter, on any goods or services, and, of course, unlike the Como, Seneca does not have to charge its customers 8% sales tax on every dollar of food sold. 
All told, the savings in taxes for the new Seneca –Italian restaurant is hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
Let’s do some simple math.
If the Como, for instance, pays $300,000 in taxes - and Seneca saves $300,000 taxes, how many bowls of spaghetti does the Como have to sell before achieving a profit, or to say it bluntly -- get equality with Seneca?
Even though the Antonacci family makes a much better bowl of spaghetti than Seneca,  $300,000 is a lot to compete against, a lot to overcome.
2. Ditto for the Red Coach Inn. Established in the early 20th century, customers in search of fine steaks, chops, or seafood, can choose to dine there, or at the, literally, neighboring Seneca (tax- free) Western Door.
It is ironic that the two oldest and most famous restaurants in Niagara Falls, NY – mainstays – as it were, are now directly competing against the tax-free Seneca - right in their midst.
Because their reputation is outstanding, these two restaurants will survive – but after paying millions in taxes, is this the best that Albany could serve up for them?
And what about newer restaurants? or any of dozens of other types of stores, shops or hotels which have now to compete against stores and hotels that Seneca opens?
The irony of this is it is not merely competition -- for competition is what America was built upon -
but this is a new kind of un-American competition- with a huge advantage given to non-Americans- by the laws of NY – created by Albany- to say it bluntly - to favor Seneca.
What is being studied now, and must be studied, and potentially litigated, is whether the compact truly permits the taking away of fair competition in business in Niagara Falls,
NY, for the sake of getting a casino off the ground.

Conversely, if Seneca were wise, it should not be greedy. After all, their casino, in what
was once Niagara Falls, NY, generates about one million in profit per day.
They have exclusivity on that tax-free casino.
They should not expect more than equality with neighboring Americans in other
businesses ventures.
We need an investigation into the compact and into case law to determine what the
language really permits or potentially prohibits as “unfair competitive advantage” or
“preference” over Americans.
Before the tax- free preference of Seneca threatens every kind of business in Niagara
Falls, America, we may need to call a halt- by moratorium -on Seneca tax-free
Of course, this moratorium would not stop Seneca from opening any business they like,
only they would have to do it like the rest of us-- and pay taxes on it.
To help pay for the roads and water lines and police protection they now use …
Now, before you sympathize with the shrill cry of “unfair” by Seneca apologists,
consider they’d still have their million a day in profit from the casino to struggle by with
… and maybe, just maybe, that’s advantage enough.

Frank Parlato can be reached at 716-804-3304 or by e mail at Parlato is a developer in Niagara Falls NY.





Copyright © Frank Parlato Jr.