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Paterson looks to tribal sales to help solve deficit

   Amazing what a $15.4 billion budget deficit will do.

   Just months ago, Gov. David Paterson was pushing off calls that he try to collect taxes on cigarettes sold by Indian retailers. The better way is to negotiate with the Indian tribes, he said, a course taken, and failed, by three governors before him.

   So Monday in Utica, just 24 hours before unveiling his plan to solve the state's budget crisis, Paterson signed a bill that he says will have the state collect the cigarette taxes. Today, he will reveal how much he expects the state to make this year from the tax collection efforts in the way of new cigarette excise taxes.

   That he chose Utica to sign the bill Monday was noteworthy, all sides agreed. Native Americans saw it as an in-your-face move. He could have just put out a piece of paper announcing his signature on the bill. Instead, he traveled to central New York - a hotbed of anger over the years between Native Americans and non-Indian residents over a range of sovereignty issues - in front of an audience of local politicians with low standing among many Indians in the region. "Why did he do it that way?" one upset Seneca said Monday.

   This from a governor who still talks of wanting to negotiate with the Indians on the tax matter.

   Naturally, there is skepticism about the latest effort. Tax collection advocates have heard governors before say they will stop the tax-free sales. And nothing has happened since the state won a landmark United States Supreme Court case in 1994 giving it the legal right to collect the tax.

   Moreover, there's the matter of likely additional litigation that will delay the collection efforts.

   New York might have a better clue of Paterson's intentions in 60 days. That is when the new law he signed Monday becomes effective.

  --- Tom Precious

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