Updated: Tuesday, 31 Aug 2010, 8:00 PM EDT
Published : Tuesday, 22 Jun 2010, 5:23 PM EDT
IRVING, N.Y. (WIVB) - Anger and tension are heating up as New York State looks to impose the highest cigarette tax in the nation. The Seneca Nation of Indians is not sitting quietly.
The Senecas have been down this path before, and are gearing up for a battle with the state. Their smoke shop patrons are also expressing outrage a day after the new cigarette tax was passed in Albany.
Brand name cigarettes at the Native Pride Smoke Shop in Irving are about $3 cheaper per pack than off the reservation, and it's $5 for Native American brands. Smokers are drawn here to blow off states taxes. The idea of an even higher cigarette tax?
Charlene Ecker said, "I don't like the idea. Everybody comes here because of the cheap cigarettes. The prices are outrageous already."
For the Seneca Nation, any state tax on cigarettes is out of the question. The Senecas are now exploring options for a response, hoping to avoid direct confrontation.
J.C. Seneca of the Seneca Foreign Relations Committee said, "We've done everything in our power to avoid conflict, and if anything happens, certainly they're going to be responsible for that, and it's going to be on their hands."
To drive home their issue of sovereignty, the Seneca's could use the New York State Thruway once again as a bargaining chip. At this point on the Thruway at Irving, you enter Seneca land, and the sign tells you a fee is being assessed for your passage.
About three years ago, the Seneca's rescinded the right of way agreement with the state that allowed the Thruway to pass through their land, and began billing the state for every vehicle that passed through.
"We've assessed a dollar per vehicle, and then we upped it to $2 per vehicle. Today, still, the state has not paid us a dime for that, and it's upwards of $58.8 million right now that the state owes us," explained J.C. Seneca.