Cuomo administration halts controversial license plate plan

Michael Gwizdala

September 17, 2019

Originally published in The Record on September 17, 2019.

CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. — Shortly after the release of a Siena College poll showing New Yorkers oppose a license plate replacement plan by a count of 60-31, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration rescinded its decision to move forward.

Had the plan gone forward, New York drivers with plates more than 10-years-old would’ve been charged $25 for new plates and an additional $20 to keep their plate number, starting on April 1, 2020.

Not surprisingly, the proposed fee was even less popular, polling at 75-23 among those who believe the $25 replacement fee is unfair.

In response, the governor’s office says it remains committed to working with the state Legislature to create a plan that ensures plates are readable and if so can be kept.

”As the DMV commissioner said weeks ago, this proposal isn’t going forward as we have committed to working with the Legislature to create a plan that ensures plates are readable by law enforcement and cashless tolling systems and creates a process where plates older than 10 years are inspected and, if still readable, can be kept. Why Siena would spend its time polling outdated information is beyond me,” Rich Azzopardi, senior advisor to the governor stated.

As the polling suggests, the plan not only drew the ire of registered voters but from some members of the state Legislature and local county clerk offices.

A week ago, the Rensselaer County Legislature voted on and passed a unanimous resolution opposing the proposed new license plate fees.

“It’s back to the same thing that happened in 2009 and [then-Gov. David] Paterson lied to the people," said Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola, a Republican. "People get frustrated when they charge $45. They did the same thing with EZ Pass, no one’s having a problem with EZ Pass.

"We see it as clerks at the window every day, people are adamant they didn’t want to have to get new plates. They were livid at the fact that they were going to charge $25 and another $20 on top if you want to keep the same plate number. I really did think that this was going to come back and bite him [Gov. Andrew Cuomo] and he wasn’t going to do it, so I think a little bit of a victory for the people of the state of New York."

Merola’s fellow county clerk in Saratoga, Craig Hayner, also a Republican, echoed those sentiments.

“I’m pleased to see that the governor has finally listened to the people who’ve said enough is enough and rolled back his plans to force New Yorkers to pay an unnecessary $25 license plate fee,” Hayner said. “This plan disproportionately hit upstate residents and was a needless fee for already overtaxed New Yorkers statewide.”

Members of the state Legislature, on both sides of the aisle, agreed that they are glad to see that the fee won't occur now.

“It’s a victory for taxpayers! The most powerful voices have spoken: the people of New York state and they have said ‘enough is enough’ with the nickel and diming of taxpayers, and finally, after relentlessly speaking out on this, the governor has wisely decided to turn the page on his plan to force millions of motorists to pay for new license plates that they don’t need,” Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville.

Tedisco’s Senate colleague Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, concurred with the decision.

"Based on initial reports, it now appears that Gov. Cuomo is backing off his original 'stealth tax' that would’ve required motorists to dig even deeper into their wallets and pay $25 for new license plates the state deemed as needing to be replaced," she said. "I have new Senate legislation pending that would not allow any new license plates to be yet another Albany money grab as the governor's plan was. While we need to make 100 percent sure that the governor's wildly unpopular proposal is gone, this initial news is a great example of what pressure from legislators and the public can achieve."

Likewise, there was much agreement over in the state Assembly.

"I have proudly worked with my colleagues to condemn this money-grab tax since it was first introduced. It is refreshing to see that the disapproval from New Yorkers across the state has been acknowledged and acted upon. The hard-working people of our state are already overtaxed and overburdened, and if we want to keep them here in New York it is critical that we listen when they say 'enough is enough'," said Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston Spa.

“I’m glad Gov. Cuomo has reversed his plan regarding new license plates as his proposal amounted to nothing more than a cash grab,” added Assemblyman Jake Ashby, R-Castleton.

Walsh and Ashby's Assembly colleague John McDonald III, D-Cohoes, was also pleased with the decision and said he hopes the administration requires plate readability a part of the inspection process.

“From my perspective, from when this first rolled out, I think the biggest thing I was hearing from the public, which I too was challenged with is if my plate is in perfectly great condition, why would I have to change my plate? I’m pleased to hear that DMV is listening and appears to be firming up their position that if a plate is readable and there’s nothing wrong with it that individuals should not have to exchange their plates, particularly for a fee,” McDonald said.

“The reality at the end of the day the citizens are not going to be forced to buy a new license plate unless they choose to and that’s a good thing. If we could come out of this with a better inspection program so that way plates that are not readable are identified that’s a win-win for the taxpayers because if plates are not readable, that means they’re riding our roads for free and that’s not fair to the rest of us paying the bill,” McDonald added.