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New State Budget Deficit-Cutting Deal Close; License Plate Fee May Be Out

<p>The state's new design for its license plate, to be used beginning in May, 2010</p>
The state's new design for its license plate, to be used beginning in May, 2010

A deal is getting closer to close the state’s latest big budget shortfall, and the deal could get rid of the need to pay for a new license plate.

Gov. Paterson, as part of a big package of fees and program cuts intended to close a $3.2 billion hole in the current state budget, proposed a mandatory swap of license plates. He said the current plates are wearing out — they’ve been in use for 10 years and begin to lose their ability to reflect light at about 5 years.

The replacement plate would go on sale next May and each driver would be forced to get the new plate when they register a vehicle. It would cost an extra $25 for the plate.

Gov. Paterson held conference call meetings with leaders of the Senate and Assembly this week and said afterwards he’s open to changing his mind. “I’ll go back and take a look at the license plates because it has upset so many people. I’m optimistic I can find a way to replace the $129 million hole and I’ll reconsider it,” he said, according to the New York Post.

Some county clerks have openly fought the new license plate and fees. That includes Oswego County Clerk George Williams, who is also chair of the county Republican Party. He began an online petition drive against the license plates. Williams has not yet responded to an e-mailed inquiry about the petition drive from two days ago.

NewsChannel 9 reports clerks from around the state met in Herkimer Thursday to discuss the license plates issue and to ask for a meeting with Paterson.

Local legislators are lining up to say they want to get rid of the license plate fee.  Here’s State Senator Darrel Aubertine (D-Cape Vincent):

“During last year’s budget, we worked to eliminate many of the nickel and dime proposals and the license plate renewal is one that I opposed, but remained as we passed an on time budget. As we work on the deficit reduction, we have an opportunity to eliminate this burden on Upstate New Yorkers and businesses. My Upstate colleagues and I believe we can work with the governor to find other ways to make up the revenue from this proposal before it goes into effect.”

And here’s Assemblyman Will Barclay (R-Pulaski):

“Once again, our Downstate leaders in Albany managed to put the mandatory license plate purchase forth and pass this last year with their bloated budget. The idea of asking people to just hand more money over to the Department of Motor Vehicles when they do not need new license plates upsets the people who work hard for what they earn and, ultimately, harms our economy.  Businesses in particular would be hard hit, as many own multiple vehicles.

“The people in my district are angry about being forced to pay $25 to replace.  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 and vehicle owners.”

State lawmakers want to eliminate cuts to education in the Governor’s deficit reduction plan. Those cuts would come in the middle of schools’ budget years and long after tax bills have been sent out. Paterson said on that conference call with legislative leaders that he’s “less ideological” about where the money comes from, as long as enough money is cut to fill the gap.

Local school districts are also fighting the cuts.

Earlier this week, Hannibal Board of Education President Dale Young mentioned that a letter the board sent to Assemblymen Bob Oaks and Will Barclay and State Senator Darrel Aubertine had been well received. The thrust of the letter: “Oh my God, we can’t stand this whole big hit,” Young said. “We might be able to swallow some, but not all of it.”

Education aid has been spared, so far, in earlier rounds of cuts. Paterson’s deep reductions in aid for this school year were made up, dollar for dollar, by federal stimulus funds aimed at preserving jobs.