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License Fee Reversal Exemplifies Successful Grassroots Campaign

Last week, it became clear that the Upstate’s collective voice reached the Governor when he announced that he would repeal the mandate that would have required every New York driver to purchase a new license plate beginning in April 2010. The Governor said he could do without this fee if lawmakers come up with alternative ways to close the budget gap. The sale of new license plates to every motorist for $25 was anticipated to provide the state with $130 million in revenue.

The new fee was enacted in the 2009-10 budget, which I did not support. The policy would have applied to trucks, cars, trailers, motorcycles and even ATVs. I’ve strongly criticized this budget, with its unprecedented 137 new fees and taxes. I have also spoken out against the license plate purchase mandate. County clerks across the state started online petitions to raise awareness and rally residents against the plan. I appreciated hearing from all of the constituents who contacted my office in opposition of the fee. The good news is it worked. The Governor heard our pleas to stop this new mandate from going forward.

It’s an important victory for all who are tired of New York’s new fees and fee increases that passed in the bloated state budget in the spring. The funds generated from the new plate purchases were destined for the general fund. Other Department of Motor Vehicle fee increases were at least going toward a dedicated fund for highway and bridges. However, the license plate fee was not a legitimate DMV fee—it was a revenue enhancement.

Another fee that is especially egregious is the new utility assessment. I have voiced my strong opposition against this new tax that also passed in the budget. Beginning in the summer, utility bills began to feature a new fee called the “Utility Tax Service Conservation Assessment.” If this wasn’t enough, along with the “conservation assessment” are the increased rate charges people are realizing due to increases the state is applying to the utility’s gross intrastate revenues assessment. These taxes are expected to generate $520 million over a five-year period. It’s the single largest tax passed in this year’s budget and is affecting everyone, especially businesses.

Many businesses have taken the time to write to my office and explain how their energy costs are increasing substantially. Municipalities have cited this as a major reason why they are having a hard time balancing their budgets. Energy saving measures that they applied in recent years is negated by this assessment. Once again, it’s another unfunded state mandate for them. In one instance, a business owner said this is a primary reason for venturing elsewhere to do business. This news should be disturbing to everyone. That is why I am urging for the repeal of this assessment. It is a poor public policy, much like the other fees that passed in the budget last year, and, as you can see, harmful to business.

If our Downstate leaders were more concerned with finding ways to trim spending, perhaps they wouldn’t be so focused on creating new revenue streams and placing new taxes and fees on the backs of Upstate residents, business owners and vehicle owners. We can trim our budget to prevent the new license fee and similar revenue enhancement fees from being instituted but we just need the political will to do so.

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.