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Cuomo spokesman says license plate renewal plan won't 'go forward'

A spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that a plan to charge up to $45 to replace license plates more than 10 years old is no longer going forward.

The news comes after a Siena College poll finds New Yorkers strongly oppose having to pay for new license plates.

Three-quarters of those asked said they think the $25 fee to replace the plates is unfair. Those who want to keep their current plate number would have to pay an additional $20.

The program, which was expected to earn the state an estimated $75 million in new fees, has touched a nerve.

Siena spokesman Steve Greenberg said most New Yorkers’ only interaction with state government is with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

“Everybody has to deal with DMV,” Greenberg said. “It’s the part of state government that most New Yorkers interact with.” 

Cuomo said in late August that it’s up to the state Legislature to waive or lower the $25 fee for the new plates, or to change the proposal to require new plates.

Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Cuomo said in a statement Tuesday that the replacement program won’t be carried out next April as planned. But he said the Legislature needs to come up with another plan that “ensures plates are readable by law enforcement and cashless tolling systems” and creates an inspection process to make sure plates that are older than 10 years are still legible. 

Azzopardi criticized Siena for even asking the question about the plates. 

“Why Siena would spend its time polling outdated information is beyond me,” Azzopardi said.

Several Republican lawmakers and a few Democrats have spoken out against the proposal, and some counties led by Republicans have approved resolutions opposing the new requirement. 

Republican state Sen. Jim Tedisco, speaking on public television’s "New York Now," called the proposal a “highway heist.”

Tedisco said he filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the DMV for the true cost of the new plates, which are manufactured by state prisoners, but he received no answer. He believes the actual cost for a new plate is closer to just over $1.

The news of the new replacement fee was revealed as part of a contest over the summer that allowed New Yorkers to choose the design for the new plates. 

“The real question he should have been asking is, does the public want a multimillion-dollar plate replacement fee program when they have the highest registration costs right now in the nation?” Tedisco asked. “And their plates are fine.”

Cuomo has said that a 2009 law requires that the state charge $25 for each license plate. Tedisco said that law said the state can charge “up to” $25, so the fee could actually be much less.

After the announcement that the plan would be rescinded, Tedisco declared in a statement that “the highway heist is over.”

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, one of the few Democrats who spoke out against the plan, said he’s “glad” that the governor and the DMV commissioner realized it was a “bad idea from the start.”

Santabarbara says he wants the Legislature to pass a law saying that the DMV can’t ever again initiate a similar plan.

“You never know when these issues magically resurface down the road,” Santabarbara said. “So we do need to have something in statute that says that this can’t happen in the future.”

Santabarbara said he doesn’t see a need to change the state’s inspection process; he said inspections already examine whether a license plate is faulty and needs to be replaced.

None of the ill will toward the new plates appears to have rubbed off on Cuomo.

The poll found the governor’s favorability rating has improved from an all-time low of 43% in August to 48% now. Just slightly more than one-third of New Yorkers, 38%, think he is doing a good job in office. 

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.