New York state is reaching into your pocket again, this time for $25 to replace your license plates if they are 10 years old or older. Add $20 if you want to keep your license plate number. With more than 3 million old plates on the road, the fee is expected to generate $75 million in revenue in its first year.
Is it a money grab or a necessary expense? Frankly, it’s hard to tell. But given New York’s history of piling on the taxes and fees, you can see why the money grab narrative is winning.
We’ll sort of buy Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s explanation that the new plates are needed for the New York State Thruway’s switch to “cashless tolling” starting next year. If drivers don’t have an EZ Pass, the electronic tolling system uses overhead license plate readers to bill drivers for tolls. The system has an easier time reading dark numbers and letters on a light background, meaning fewer drivers will escape the toll, the governor said Wednesday as he opened the New York State Fair.
We don’t buy Cuomo’s excuse that the $25 fee is set by law. The law passed under former Gov. David Paterson in 2009 says the state can charge no more than $25 for new plates. But it could charge less.
If New York is going to make drivers turn in their perfectly good license plates, give us the new plates at cost.
Paterson abandoned the license plate fee after a huge public outcry. So far, Cuomo isn’t backing down. But the state Legislature has plenty of time to weigh in before the new fee goes into effect on April 1, 2020, the start of the next fiscal year. Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, already introduced a bill preventing the state from charging a license plate fee when the design is changed. Kolb called it “another fee that makes everyday life a little more expensive for hardworking people.”
Meanwhile, the state ought to continue to replace peeling license plates for free. It’s not the driver’s fault that the plates are defective. The problem surfaced in 2015 and again last year, and yet the state kept renewing its contract with the old supplier of plastic laminate for three more years. We’re glad to see a new vendor will take over the job in September, hopefully with better results.
Cuomo said the fee was to cover the cost of the license plates. But does it really cost $25 to make them? Let’s just say we’re skeptical, given that the prisoners who make the license plates at Auburn Correctional Facility earn an average of 65 cents an hour. (Some civilians also work on the license plates; presumably they make a lot more.)