ALBANY — With the controversy over plans for a new state license plate fee showing few signs of fading, state Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Mark J.F. Schroeder on Thursday said he'd like to see the state Legislature lower the planned $25 fee.
But critics said the administration has the power to lower the fee now, without legislative action.
The Cuomo administration's plans to require all vehicles to get new license plates over the next two years and charge them $25 has been slammed by Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature, though the Governor's Office has noted the fee has been in law since 2009.
"Some legislators have now expressed an interest in lowering the fee," Schroeder said in a statement released by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office. "The governor would like to lower the fee. If the legislators are sincere and want to lower the fee immediately, although they haven't in the past decade, the governor has made clear he invites them back for a special session to do it."
State Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, has been among the prominent critics of the fee, and he noted that the current law allows a fee of "not to exceed" $25 per plate -- that nothing prevents the DMV from charging less than $25 per plate.
Earlier Thursday, Tedisco had called for the Senate Transportation Committee to hold hearings on the proposed fee, to hear justifications and receive public input on it.
"[Cuomo's] got more angles than a geometry book, but they're not answering the real question," Tedisco said in response to Schroeder's statement. "There is no $25 fee. The legislation says the governor can charge up to $25. He can charge anything in between."
Criticism of the planned fee has been bipartisan, with state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, among the Democrats who have said they don't consider the fee justified.
"DMV commissioner missed the point," Santabarbara wrote on Twitter. "Governor’s program FORCES drivers to replace plates regardless of condition. On technology excuse, other states haven’t replaced plates nearly as much & when I travel through cashless tolling I still get the bill -- some states have NO TOLL at all."
According to an analysis done by Tedisco's office, it actually costs about the state about $1.15 per plate to make license plates, with the state purchasing materials and having the manufacturing done by state prison inmates in Auburn. "This will mean a $70 million windfall for the state," said Tedisco, who noted he's supporting a bill that would include license plate replacement in the basic vehicle registration fee.
Cuomo last week announced the plans to require new license plates, saying many older plates have deteriorated and may not be readable by toll-collection cameras and other plate-reading technology. Cuomo also launched an online contest asking the public to vote among five potential designs for a new license plate.
Schroeder said he was issuing a statement because "the hypocrisy and misstatements from certain legislators seeking cheap press hits are irresponsible and need to be clarified."
"If the Legislature can agree to a cost-effective and practical plate inspection mechanism to determine what plates are still in good operating condition after the 10-year life and thus do not need to be replaced, we would welcome the opportunity to be cooperative," Schroeder said. "The 10-year life replacement program does not go into effect until next April, so we have time to work with the Legislature to explore alternatives. We support reducing costs wherever possible."
Tedisco said the statement's being issued indicates that criticisms like his are having an impact.
"This is clearly highway robbery, literally," the senator said.
In addition to the $25 fee, there would be an additional $20 charged if motorists want to keep their current license plate number.