EDITORIAL: New York: Death by a thousand fees

A rendering from 2019 of the renovated Clifton Park DMV office
A rendering from 2019 of the renovated Clifton Park DMV office

What’s the big deal? It’s just another buck. Heck, you pay three times that for your morning latte.

So what’s the big deal about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to add $1 to transaction fees with the state Department of Motor Vehicles as part of his plan to balance the state budget?

The proposal – which would add $1 to the cost of all driver’s license and vehicle registration transactions – would raise nearly $18 million for the state over the next five years.

But rather than help the state close its looming budget deficit (which seems to be getting smaller on its own by the day), the money from the fee would go into a dedicated transportation fund to pay for technology upgrades so the state could provide even more online services.

Oh, but don’t worry. The fee would only be temporary, the governor’s office says, expiring after five years.

Listen, if you believe New York is ever going to voluntarily give up revenue once it’s begun collecting it, look no further than the tolls on the state Thruway. They were supposed to expire in 1996.

Sure another dollar might not seem that much on top of the $26-$140 the state already charges for vehicle registrations or the $80-$110 it charges for licenses and permits.

But it’s more than just a dollar. The new fee is problematic for a couple of reasons.

For starters, it’s a way New York can tax its citizens without actually labeling it a tax. State fees and surcharges drive up costs on everything from cell phones to car insurance to car rentals to health insurance to recycling your car’s tires.

New York taxpayers are bombarded with these hidden expenses to the tune of tens of millions of dollars a year.

Second, the proposal unfairly targets upstate residents. Who’s more likely to have to register a car or renew a driver’s license or do any business with the DMV? Someone who has to drive to work like most upstaters do, or someone who takes the subway or other mass transit to get around, like New York City residents?

Another issue with the fee is that it’s being used for more spending.

We understand the state is under the financial gun due to the economic consequences of the coronavirus crisis.

But as we’ve said in criticizing’ the governor’s budget proposal already, the state looks like it’s planning to rely more on higher taxes and more federal aid (which New Yorkers also pay through income tax) rather than by making long-overdue tough decisions on spending reductions.

If the state needs to upgrade its computers, it should weigh that spending priority against others before just automatically adding a new fee/tax to pay for it.

This fee is death by a thousand cuts, another way to squeeze more money out of the pockets of New York’s already overtaxed residents.

The state needs to find another way out of its financial mess.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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