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Is Statue Of Liberty In New Jersey? Judge Sends Suit To State Court

August 19, 1985

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ A suit filed by New Jersey politicians and labor leaders who claim the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are in their state rather than New York was sent back to state court Monday by a federal judge.

The plaintiffs maintain New York and New Jersey entered into a pact in 1834 that improperly gave control over Liberty and Ellis islands to New York. They say New Jersey deserves to reap the tax revenues generated by the tourist attractions.

U.S. District Judge Frederick B. Lacey ruled that the case should remain in state court, where it was filed, because New York never got co-defendant New Jersey’s support in seeking to move the suit to federal court.

David Fishlow, a spokesman for New York Attorney General Robert Abrams, said his state will again argue to dismiss the ″frivolous″ suit when it returns to Superior Court.

The federal government holds title to the islands in New York Harbor, both of which are both within 600 yards of Jersey City and more than a mile from New York City. The 1834 pact set the boundary between the two states in the middle of New York Harbor, with the islands in New Jersey waters, but gave New York administrative power over the landmarks.

Rep. Frank Guarini, D-N.J., acting as a private citizen, and 10 other plaintiffs claim New York has unjustly enriched itself by collecting sales taxes from tourists and income taxes from workers at the monuments.

″We’re laying claim to land that’s in New Jersey territorial waters. We’ve been looking at the Lady’s derriere for 100 years. Fine, we just want her address,″ said Conrad Vuocolo, a spokesman for the congressman.

He said the suit was brought for three reasons: ″First, to correct the wrong. No. 2 it’s a pride thing. No. 3, the money.″

The attorney for the plaintiffs, Seymour Margulies, contends the 1834 pact was unconstitutional because ″no state legislature has the right to give up sovereignty to land within its boundaries.″

New York will collect $2.5 million in income tax this year from workers restoring the statue for its 1986 centennial.

The state reaps more than $50,000 annually in state sales tax from tourists visiting the attractions. That figure is expected to increase after the statue’s reopening.

In addition, construction of a hotel and museum is proposed for Ellis Island, the gateway to United States for millions of European immigrants.

The plaintiffs have asked the court for compensation for lost sales tax revenues over the past 20 years.

Representatives of New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean already have met to discuss ways to distribute tax revenues and jobs on the islands, said Carl Golden, a spokesman for Kean.

Cuomo recommended Monday that a federal protectorship be established, with revenues from the islands reserved for the preservation of the landmarks.

Cuomo said that while ″in a strict legal sense,″ he believes New York owns the islands, ″it ought not to be resolved as a strict legal issue. I think the Statue of Liberty belongs to the United States of America.″

Golden said Cuomo’s proposal was ″certainly something to be explored.″

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