CLIFTON PARK -- County clerks who administer vehicle registrations across northeastern New York joined state Sen. James Tedisco on Wednesday to denounce Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to mandate replacement of license plates in the state.
The two-week-old plan to replace about three million license plates over the next two years at a cost of $25 per plate stirred controversy, with members of the Republican legislative minorities like Tedisco, R-Glenville, and Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston, calling the planned fee a "cash grab" by the state.
Tedisco has been among the most prominent critics of the plan, drawing statewide attention to the issue, which has drawn criticism from several Democratic legislators as well, including Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam.
"The resistance to Gov. Cuomo's highway heist to raise license plate fees is growing, and it starts right in the front offices of the people on the ground who will actually have to administer this $70 million cash grab by the state: our county clerks," Tedisco said on Wednesday.
Tedisco said charging the fee should lead to $70 million in new revenue for the state, above and beyond what it costs to actually make new license plates. That doesn't include any estimate for the additional $20 owners would be charged if they want to keep their current license plate number, Tedisco added.
Underlying the plan to replace all plates that are 10 years old are concerns that some plates have aged poorly, with flaking and peeling paint. Cuomo's office has said new license plates will be easier for both EZ-Pass cameras and law enforcement plate readers to read.
"Unreadable license plates need to be replaced, as they are important identification markers for vehicles and their owners," said Saratoga County Clerk Craig Hayner. "However, requiring plates that are in good condition to be replaced is wasteful."
Hayner was one of five county clerks, all Republicans, who attended a press conference Wednesday at Tedisco's Clifton Park office. There are about 210,000 vehicles registered in Saratoga County, and he said his DMV clerks already are pressed, processing registrations and license renewals along with issuing Real ID cards.
"Our clerks hear it every day," Hayner said.
Hayner and the other clerks -- Frank Merola of Rensselaer County, Pam Vogel of Warren County, Holly Tanner of Columbia County, Joseph A. Provoncha of Essex County, and Sylvia Rowan of Herkimer County -- said they support a proposal by Tedisco, Walsh, and state Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, to hold public hearings on the license plate fees.
"It is an unfair burden on our taxpayers and our constituents," Tanner said. "DMV is just a cash cow, and the cow is being milked dry."
Tedisco estimates the actual cost of making a license plate is about $1.15. He believes plate replacement should be included in a vehicle's registration fee, with no additional cost to vehicle owners.
"This is a huge cash grab," said Walsh. "I don't know how they thought this was going to go well."
If the fee is imposed next April 1 as scheduled, the money is expected to go to a highway and bridge trust fund that the Department of Transportation can draw on for transportation infrastructure projects.
Cuomo's office said critics like Tedisco are ignoring the offer last week by state Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Mark Schroeder to work with legislators on a "compromise" that would lower the planned $25 fee.
"At this point, Tedisco is talking to himself and it's sad -- the DMV commissioner already said he wants to work with the legislature to come up with a cost-effective system before April that adapts to changing technology to ensure that plates can be read by both cashless tolling and law enforcement," said Cuomo senior advisor Rich Azzopardi. "Despite grandstanding from hypocritical elected officials in search of a cheap press hit, the cost of a replacement license plate was changed from $15 to $25 by a vote of the legislature in 2009 and has been the same for the last 10 years -- before this governor took office."
Tedisco responded that the 2009 law -- adopted when then- Gov. David Paterson drew controversy with a similar plate replacement plan -- sets the replacement fee at "not to exceed" $25, so Cuomo has the power to set the fee lower.
The senator said he wants the issue addressed sooner than when the legislature reconvenes in January. "I don't want this to become part of the budget negotiations," he said.
The governor's office included mention of the fee in an announcement two weeks ago about a competition asking the public to vote on five different license plate designs, including one featuring the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo bridge, named for the governor's father. Voting ended on Monday, but Cuomo's office has yet to announce the results.