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NY's license plate contest comes with mandated fee

Four of the five license plate designs vying

Four of the five license plate designs vying to become the State's official license plate beginning April 2020. Credit: NYGOV

ALBANY — Call it a contest with a catch.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wants New York residents to vote on a new license plate. But tucked into his announcement is a new mandate: He wants to phase out all current plates and make you pay a $25 replacement fee to get a new one.

Once your license plate is 10 years old, you’ll have to give it up and buy a new one. You can keep your current number — for an extra $20 — but that will go on a new plate too.

Cuomo, a Democrat, said it's needed as the state moves to a "cashless toll" scanning system. Current license plates can't always be picked up by electronic scanners, he said, though he didn't provide specifics.

“We need a new design of a plate because we moved to a new technology," Cuomo said Tuesday at an unrelated event in Niagara County. "These (current) plates are not to designed to work with the technology we are installing."

Critics are calling the move “unnecessary” and a “cash grab,” as well as a “data grab” because you’ll have to supply an email address to the governor’s website to vote online for the new plate.

They noted the last time the state changed license plates — switching to the current blue-and-gold design in 2010 — vehicle owners weren’t forced to turn in their old ones and buy new ones.

Unlike this proposal.

“The governor is launching the poll to try and convince people that this is a fun contest and not a new $75 million tax on the middle class,” Assemb. Phil Palmesano (R-Corning) said. “If the governor truly believes that it’s important for New Yorkers to have new license plates, he should’ve paid for them in his $175 billion (state) budget. Forcing hardworking people to buy something they don’t want or need is just wrong.”

Critics also said it recalled Gov. David A. Paterson’s attempt in 2009 to mandate new license plates to generate $100 million or more to help balance the state budget. State legislators ultimately rejected that proposal.

“Hardworking New Yorkers should not be burdened with this unnecessary cash grab by the state,” Sen. David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown) said. “A required fee to replace old license plates is arbitrary and does not in any way benefit drivers.”

About 3 million automobiles still have the blue-and-white license plate, all of which are 10 years old or more. Replacing them would generate at least $75 million for the state, plus any extra paid by people who want to retain their current license number.

Drivers with the blue-and-gold plates will be able to continually renew them — until they reach 10 years old, when new plates will have to be purchased, under the Cuomo plan. Under the administration’s plan, mandatory replacement of the old plates would begin in April.   

The Cuomo administration made the license plate announcement, touting the contest element. It unveiled five proposed designs Monday for customers to review.

It encouraged motorists to go to the governor’s website to vote.

"The time has come for New York to have a new license plate,” state Motor Vehicles Commissioner Mark Schroeder said in a statement, “which is why we worked hard to create design options that not only capture the heart of the Empire State, but also that our customers will be proud to put on their vehicles.”

One features the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge over the Hudson River, one of the current governor’s favorite projects. Three feature the Statue of Liberty in some variation; the final one looks a lot like the old blue-and-white plates, featuring Niagara Falls and the Empire State Building, but with a different color scheme.

Replacing old plates will “eliminate legibility issues” not only for law enforcement but also red-light cameras and automated toll systems, DMV said.

Cuomo on Tuesday defended the new plates as necessary to be compatible with a cashless toll system on bridges and toll roads. Some bridges already feature cashless tolling — an electronic scanner reads the license the plates — and New York is following other states in trying to switch to an all-cashless system.

The governor suggested the scanner system already was experiencing “issues” with reading current license plates, but didn’t go into specifics or provide information about whether the state was losing out on some tolls now.

"If that doesn’t work, the person doesn't pay the toll and then we have a significant problem," he continued. "We will have a deficit when it comes to the toll collection, we are experiencing that in other parts of the state."

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