State Senator Robert Ortt believes if New York State wants to roll out a newly-designed license plate, motorists shouldn't be forced to pay to replace their current plates. On Friday, he introduced legislation that would waive that fee, while also questioning the inclusion of one particular proposed design.
Under Ortt's proposal, the $25 fee would be waived, though fees to replace damaged or lost plates would still apply. As the North Tonawanda Republican sees it, the Cuomo plan to replace older plates, with new ones featuring a new design, is not justified.
"This is nothing more than a cash grab by New York State and motorists feel the same way," said Ortt.
Niagara County Clerk Joseph Jastrzemski, who along with Assemblyman Mike Norris joined Ortt to blast the Cuomo license plate plan, agrees with the sentiment that the idea is a cash grab, and a potentially big one.
"Using a conservative figure of $25 that he wants to use... he is creating a $350 million windfall on the backs of 14 million registered New York State vehicles," Jastrzemski said.
Norris called it another burden for taxpayers and went on to say he finds it unfair to stick motorists with the cost of replacing license plates which have peeled, because they were defective at the start.
"When you get your license plate, first of all you expect it to actually work," Norris said. "Last time, we had these yellow plates which were peeling. Quite frankly, that is an embarrassment to the State of New York."
The Cuomo Administration argues that new plates are necessary for compatibility with cashless tolling. Critics of the proposal aren't buying the Cuomo argument.
"We don't need a new plate design. Issue new plates," Ortt said. "My plate gets read by cashless tolling. I've had my plate for several years. I go through. There's no issue I'm aware of."
Ortt also complains about how the plan to replace old plates with new will force many with specially-designed units to pay the $45 fee for new special editions. These include plates identifying the motorist as a veteran. Ortt, a military veteran who served in Afghanistan, has such a plate.
Five proposed designs have been unveiled and the public is encouraged to vote for one. Only one choice includes a landmark found outside downstate New York and the Metro New York City area. That is Niagara Falls, which appears along with the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline on the fifth proposed option on the governor's website.
Critics take exception to another possible option: one that features the Tappan Zee Bridge, located over the Hudson River between South Nyack and Tarrytown, renamed in memory of Governor Cuomo's father, the late Mario Cuomo.
Conspiracy theories already exist suggesting that, somehow, that option will end up a popular choice. Senator Ortt says that bridge is simply an easily recognized New York State icon.
"There's a lot of people in Western New York, they wouldn't know the Tappan Zee Bridge or the Mario Cuomo (Bridge) if they saw it," Ortt said. "They wouldn't know the difference between that and the George Washington Bridge. I think the fact that plate is even in this contest raises a lot of questions about why we're doing this in the first place."
The visual prop Ortt, Norris and Jastrzemski used at Friday's gathering in Lockport featured a satirical license plate design, one featuring a hand pulling money out of a pocket.
Democratic Assembly member Angelo Santabarbara has introduced similar legislation in that house of state government. Buffalo Democrat Timothy Kennedy, meanwhile, chairs the State Senate's Transportation Committee but Ortt says he has not yet spoken to the fellow Western New York lawmaker about his stance on the plate program.