Tuesday, November 17, 2009

State legislature vows license plate fee repeal

State legislature vows license plate fee repeal: "

Remember the halcyon days of late last week when Gov. David Paterson announced a new plan to replace every New York license plate while charging $25 a car? At the time, state officials claimed that the reflectivity of our current blue plates had run its course and also that the $25 charge would help draw in $129 million over two years.

At the time, I called the fee a pure and simple money grab. Up nearly $20 per car over the 2001 plate replacement fees, the state was simply trying to make money, and I believed that if the outrage over this fee was not at least as loud as the protests over the MTA’s payroll tax, something would be rotten in the state of New York.

Well, now that the state legislature is promising to repeal the fee, I got my wish but for all the wrong reasons. As Michael Grynbaum explores in The Times today, car owners raised a stink because they can’t be bothered to pay for their driving. These upstate drivers claim urban dwellers benefit. Writes Grynbaum:

Leaders in both chambers of the Legislature said they expected to repeal the mandatory charge before April 1, when it was scheduled to go into effect. Lawmakers said they planned to find another way to raise the $130 million in annual revenue that would have been generated, but none offered any immediate ideas.

The fee, up from $5.50 in 2001, had been raised in part to generate more revenue amid the fiscal crisis. Drivers would have received a redesigned plate with a more reflective surface.

But upstate officials argued that they were being forced to pay a charge that city dwellers, who often use mass transit, could avoid. The fee’s demise came a day before a planned protest outside the Capitol.

Considering how New York City subsidizes the rest of the state and considering the price we pay environmentally and socially for driving, that claim is a baseless one. In fact, over at Streetsblog, one commenter highlights the hypocrisy. “Doesn’t anyone in Albany have the brains or the guts to point out that NYC residents, while they may be better positioned to ‘avoid’ the $25 plate surcharge, already pay more than their fair share for road upkeep and mass transit infrastructure, all of which is used to varying degrees by upstate residents whining about $25/car/yr?” BicyclesOnly asked. Of course they don’t.

I’ve never been a complete anti-car evangelic. In the right circumstances, automobiles have their places in society. Yet, sound investment in mass transit and public transportation is vital to New York’s future success and the overall health of our state and nation. Even if we doubt the sincerity of a replacement license plate plan and see through the fees as a blatant money grab, we shouldn’t allow drivers to avoid paying the costs of driving. Maybe city dwellers don’t have to pay the license plate fee, but we have to pay a far greater share of fees and taxes than those upstaters do. Albany shouldn’t lose sight of that reality.

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