Gov. Paterson Thursday warned of possible “violence and death” as a result of his plan to collect a $4.35-per-pack tax on smokes sold by American Indian stores.
“There will be quite an uprising and protest to this, but I am going to maintain this policy,” Paterson told WOR-AM.
“This is a very dangerous situation,” the governor said. “There is – I think – a high alert. The state police tell us over and over again that there could be violence and death as a result of some of the measures we’re taking.”
Previous attempts to impose the cigarette tax – under governors Mario Cuomo and George Pataki – led to protests that sometimes turned ugly.
In 1997, American Indians burned tires on the New York State Thruway – and shut down a 30-mile stretch of the highway.
Some troopers were hurt in scuffles during the demonstrations, but there was no record of any deaths or serious wounds, state cops said Thursday.
A spokesman declined to say if the state police would ramp up security in anticipation of problems when the tax goes into effect next Wednesday.
“We won’t speculate about any potential for protests,” Sgt. Kern Swoboda said. “Are we trained to deal with riot control and other situations like that? Absolutely.”
While Seneca Indian Nation President Barry Snyder called for nonviolence, other members of the 7,000-strong nation vowed to do whatever necessary to block the Sept. 1 start of tax collection.
“Let’s start setting up some fires here and there just to let the public know that we are serious and we are ready to battle if this is what it is going to come to,” read one post on the Seneca Voice blog.
“I don’t want violence, as our way is to be of peace, but if the state of New York wants our money, if they want our freedom then let them come in and get it.”
A Seneca spokeswoman said the blog is not officially sanctioned by the tribe.
The American Indians claim they are sovereign nations, citing 18th century treaties, and therefore free of any state-imposed taxes.
The state expects to generate an additional $200 million a year through the tax, which applies only to cigarettes sold by the tribe to non-Indian customers.
Tribe members can still buy the cigarettes from reservation stores without paying the extra tariff.