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More pushback on plan to charge $25 to replace license plates

Governor's office

A plan by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration to require motorists to pay a $25 fee to replace aging license plates is getting some resistance. But the governor said it’s needed to comply with new cashless scanners being set up on toll roads and bridges all over the state.

The transition to the new license plates includes a contestto allow New Yorkers to choose among five different designs for new plates to be issued beginning next year. But the public does not have a say on whether they can keep their old plates, or avoid paying a $25 fee for new ones, beginning next April. There’s a $20 additional charge to keep the same plate numbers.

According to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, 3.5 million vehicles have plates that are older than 10 years. The fees would bring the state at least an additional $75 million.

Nick Langworthy, the head of the state’s Republican Party, questions the need to require New Yorkers to buy new license plates if their current plates are still readable and in good condition.

"It’s another stealth tax, it’s another cash grab," Langworthy said. "It’s standard operating procedure in Albany."

Cuomo, speaking at the State Fair in Syracuse on Wednesday, said the new plates are necessary to be compatible with the new cashless tolling, which is now installed on bridges in New York City, and will be installed across the New York State Thruway within the next two years.

"The license plates are not designed for our license plate readers," said Cuomo, adding that the plates need to have a light background and dark letters or numbers to work properly.

According to the state DMV, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the national industry group, recommends that license plates be replaced at least every 10 years, and that states should have an ongoing replacement program.

Under a state law passed in 2009, the DMV is permitted to charge a $25 fee for a new license plate. That law stems from a proposal by former Gov. David Paterson. He proposed replacing all of the license plates in the state and charging the fee, but he backed down after negative publicity about the plan.

Cuomo said it’s only fair for the motorist to pay the fee.

"It’s your license plate, you should pay the cost of the license plate," Cuomo said. "If you don’t pay, then we have to pay out of tax dollars, and then you are charging New Yorkers who have nothing to do with anything, and then they are buying your license plate."

State Sen. Jim Tedisco, a Republican from the Schenectady area, said while $25 is not going to break anyone’s bank account, it is part of a larger set of policies that has led to New York having one of the highest tax rates in the nation. He also said that has led to an outmigration of nearly 200,000 New Yorkers last year.

"It’s cumulative," Tedisco said.

Tedisco said some of the license plates are deteriorating because the state contracted with a company that used a faulty lamination process. And he said the company, not the drivers, should pay for it.

Tedisco created his own parody license plate design on Twitter to illustrate his point. 

The DMV said the materials for the plates are going to come from a new vendor. The license plates continue to be assembled by prisoners in state correctional facilities.

E.J. McMahon, with the fiscal watchdog group the Empire Center, said it makes sense for the state to replace plates that are peeling and hard to read, in an era where toll collections are increasingly dependent on electronic scanners.

"We’re in an era now where the state increasingly is literally banking on the legibility of license plates to enforce tolling," McMahon said.

But he said it already costs over $100 to register a car, when other add-on fees are included. He said perhaps the governor could have handled it differently and waived the new fees.

At least one Democrat has also spoken against the plan. Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara complained on Twitter about the new fee, saying the plan was "taking more of our hard-earned money."

Santabarbara, who is from the Capital Region, also criticized the license plate contest for not including enough depictions of upstate New York.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.