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New license plates needed for cashless tolling on Thruway, Cuomo says

New Yorkers are getting new license plates to keep up with technology, not to feed the state's coffers, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday.

Speaking in Wilson a day after the state Department of Motor Vehicles released five design options for the new plate, and announced plans to allow residents to vote on a replacement, Cuomo said new license plates are needed to make the state's cashless tolling system work better, denying a reporter's suggestion that the new plates are just a money grab.

Cashless tolls, red light cameras and plate readers used by police all rely on plates that are legible and reflective enough to show up in photos.

Until Sept. 2, an online vote is being held to choose the new design, to be rolled out in April. Anyone who has a license plate that's more than 10 years old must pay $25, a price required by state law, to get a new set, with an extra $20 being added if that person wants to keep the same plate number. An estimated 3 million vehicles will be affected.

"If it doesn't work with E-ZPass – talk about a money grab – we have the opposite problem. We're going to have a real fiscal issue, because we'll have a deficit when it comes to the toll collection. We're experiencing that now in parts of the state," Cuomo said.

Cuomo has said he wants the length of the Thruway to have cashless tolling in 2020.

When a reporter asked how much toll money the state allegedly is missing because of illegible plates, Cuomo said he didn't know, but he said the amount would only increase as more cashless tolling facilities are installed.

License plates were one of several topics the governor addressed Monday. Among the others:

• Cuomo said he doesn't think the review process for large-scale wind and solar energy projects is rigged in favor of energy developers.

The process has been criticized by opponents of two large projects in Niagara County, Lighthouse Wind in Somerset and Bear Ridge Solar in Cambria and Pendleton. Siting boards, which are able to override local zoning laws, consist of five state department heads and two local residents to be chosen in Albany.

"The local community must be at the table and their voices must be heard, and their objections must be heard and addressed. That is also in the law," Cuomo said. "My understanding is the local community feels they have been shut out of the process. That is not right and that is not legal and if that is the case, the state will intervene."

State Sen. Robert G. Ortt said in June that 19 of 25 siting boards for major electric projects around the state, including Bear Ridge Solar, had no local members because Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins have not appointed any.

"No project will move forward until the local community has their voices heard," Cuomo said when asked about Bear Ridge Solar. "I don't know the specifics of this situation, but if you don't have local community representatives, I don't believe a project should move forward."

• After the news conference, Cuomo was confronted by a woman from Albion and her two sons. The woman, who wouldn't tell reporters her name, objected to a new state law abolishing religious exemptions from school immunization requirements.

"My children are not going to spread disease, I promise you. They have a God-given immune system," the woman said. "Measles, we're not afraid of it. ... It's something God put on this planet. It's not a disease. It's a virus. It lasts 10 days."

"I understand that the vaccinations are a very polarizing issue," Cuomo said. "I also understand the overwhelming number of people in this state are afraid of their children getting a disease. And that's what the vaccinations are about, and I support the vaccination law."

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