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N.Y. begins license plate duality today as costlier Empire Gold debuts

Starting today, New York's new Empire Gold license plates will go on sale statewide.

These blue-and-gold aluminum plates, manufactured by inmates at Auburn State Correctional Facility, will cost $25 a set. That's a $10 increase from the $15 charged through Wednesday for the Empire blue-and-white plates, in use since 2001.

The new license plates are similar to the blue-and-gold plates that the state issued from 1973 until 1986, when they were replaced by Liberty plates, featuring an image of the iconic statue.

The new plates, part of Gov. David A. Paterson's plan to cut the state's budget deficit, were supposed to be mandatory for vehicles registered in the state. But an outcry from county clerks, upstate politicians and others caused the governor to amend his plan, and new plates are now required only when someone is registering a vehicle for the first time.

Otsego County Clerk Kathleen Sinnott Gardner said she still believes that the plate change and fee increase were ill-advised, but she wants to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Although the state has rescinded plans to make the Empire Gold plates mandatory, Sinnott Gardner said she has heard talk "that a few years from now, when more people have the new plates than the old ones, it may happen."

Otsego County Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr. said that making New York a two-plate state is "bound to be confusing, at first.

"When they went from the Liberty plate to the ones we have now, it wasn't bad, because after a certain date, when you saw a Liberty plate, you knew something was wrong," Devlin said.

For the next few years, however, vehicles may be legally tagged with either plate, something of an oddity in the nation.

People who want to get the new plates but keep their present numbers, may do so, but it will cost an additional $20.

For information on costs and options, go to the Web site of the New York Department of Motor Vehicles: www.nydmv.state.ny.us.