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Resistance builds to native tobacco tax

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New York's effort to collect taxes on tobacco sold at native-owned stores is building to a head.

Governor Paterson told a New York City radio station yesterday that the state will begin collecting the taxes on tobacco sales to non-natives next week. The plan is expected to generate $200 million a year in state revenue.

Paterson said the taxes will be collected from wholesalers who send cigarettes to the tribes. He said state troopers will be kept off the reservations to avoid trouble.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

But past attempts to collect the taxes have resulted in protests, blockades of the New York State Thruway, and in 1978, the deaths of two state troopers.

Tribes consider the tax collection a violation of their sovereignty.

Tensions are running high, especially among some members of the Seneca Nation, where at least one blogger wrote, “we are ready to battle”.  Nation president Barry Snyder Seneca has repeated “violence is not on our agenda”, but he’s acknowledged some tribal members may not agree.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg inflamed the situation recently when he said the Governor should act “like a cowboy with a shotgun” to enforce the tax.  Paterson has called that comment “inappropriate”.

In Akwesasne, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has sued to block the state from collecting the tax.  The lawsuit argues the plan violates the tribe’s federally protected rights.  Chief Monica Jacobs said in a statement, “we have valid concerns about New York State law and how it impinges on our territory and self-governance.”

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