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Paterson vows to collect cigarette tax from tribes

ALBANY - Gov. David A. Paterson yesterday promised to finally start collecting taxes on cigarettes sold by Native American stores, despite state police warnings that such enforcement could result in "violence and death."

The state plans to collect a $4.35-per-pack sales tax on cigarettes sold by Native American retailers to non-Indian customers beginning next Wednesday.

Tribes have refused to collect the tax, citing their sovereignty and treaties dating to 1794. The last time the state tried to collect the tax, in 1997, protests erupted and tires were burned on the Thruway, shutting down a 30-mile stretch.

"This is a very dangerous situation," Paterson told WOR-AM yesterday. "The State Police tells us over and over again that there could be violence and death as a result of some of the measures we're taking."

Seneca Indian President Barry Snyder Seneca has repeatedly said "violence is not on our agenda," but the nation's leadership acknowledges that some of the tribe's more than 7,000 members might disagree.

The tax on Indian cigarettes is expected to generate about $200 million a year in revenue. Tribal retailers would still sell cigarettes tax-free to members.

The Seneca and Mohawk tribes have requested federal court orders to stop the tax collection, claiming it would violate their rights. - AP

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