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The Bottom Line: Motor Vehicle Fee

Updated: Friday, August 2 2013, 10:18 PM EDT
ALBANY -- It's the hidden fee that's "driving" up your insurance costs, but collecting millions for New York State.
CBS6 first uncovered the Motor Vehicle Law Enforcement Fee, last November.  It started at $1 per car, per year in 1992 - but was raised to $10 per car, per year in 2009.
All the money is paid to your insurance provider.  It’s then turned over to the state, with the goal of fighting auto theft and insurance fraud.
Critics had told Dori Marlin, most of the money was not going to its intended purpose.  And now, a new report from the State Comptroller's Office is shedding more light on those claims.
The report says from April 2008 to March 2012, insurance companies turned over close to $385 million to the state.
Nearly $19 million of that went to the Division of Criminal Justice Services, with the purpose of assisting local law enforcement in those efforts.  The remaining $366 million went to the New York State Police, with the vast majority going into a general fund.
By law, the first $9.1 million for State Police each year has to go to its Auto Theft Unit (ATU) - meant to support the initial goal, of curbing theft and fraud.  But the report found, it only got $9.6 million over three years.
In that same amount of time, investigations by the ATU dropped 61% - while arrests and vehicle recoveries went down 64%.
"You look at this, and you say 'They're collecting more money' - but has this unit really been less effective, if they're not producing the same results?"  Dori asked NYS Assistant Comptroller Jerry Barber.
"You could make that assessment," he responded.
The report also found the ATU staffed just 14 of its 20 authorized investigator positions, and hasn't bought any new equipment for use since 2008 - even though ATU staff members said as part of the report, some equipment currently available for use is "obsolete" and "cannot be used."
"So I could see from New Yorkers' perspective, saying 'How does the rest of it actually go to benefit reduced insurance fraud and auto theft?'" Barber said.  "I could see that question coming up."
It's a question Dori took to State Police, but the agency declined comment on camera - instead, directing her back to its response contained in the report.
In it, Superintendent Joseph D'Amico said, "State Police has answered every law enforcement agencies' request for assistance with auto theft related matters" - adding that the agency "expects to gradually restore staffing levels" and that the equipment "is functional and useful in achieving the mission of the ATU."
Senator Jim Seward (R-Oneonta) chairs the Senate Insurance Committee, and had told Dori in November that he would introduce some sort of change regarding the fee in the upcoming session.
Now that the session is over, Dori spoke with him once again.  He told her he was "not able to generate sufficient support" to roll the fee back this time, but that he plans to draft and pre-file legislation for next year to try to lower the fee.The Bottom Line: Motor Vehicle Fee

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