By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service
LANSING – As the state confronts a budget chasm, battered economy and high unemployment rate, some lawmakers have found time to think about license plates.
In the first two months of this year, they’ve proposed issuing specialty fund-raising plates to support the Michigan Humane Society, Boy Scouts of America, Ducks Unlimited and foundations associated with NASCAR and the Detroit Red Wings, Tigers, Lions and Pistons.
More competing ideas are likely, based on recent history. In 2009-2010, there were proposals for more than 15 new plates, including ones to support the War of 1812 bicentennial, U.S. Army Airborne and National Rifle Associaition.
State law limits fund-raising plates for special causes to eight at a time, but legislative proposals would remove that cap.
The Olympics Education plate that benefits Northern Michigan University’s U.S. Olympic Education Center falls outside that cap because it predates the creation of the cap and the other special cause plates, said Fred Woodhams of the Secretary of State’s communication office.
The ceiling was set “to prevent the proliferation of license plate designs,” according to a 2009 Senate Fiscal Agency analysis. “For law enforcement purposes, it is preferable to minimize the number of different designs so officers are able to distinguish Michigan plates from out-of-state plates quickly and accurately.”
Last year, the state sold about 107,000 special cause plates, counting the Olympics Education plate, bringing in almost $1.2 million, Secretary of State statistics show.
The most popular were the Patriotic and Critical Non-Game Wildlife Habitat plates.
In addition to special-cause plates, vehicle owners can buy plates touting any of 15 Michigan’s public universities. Collectively, the state issued almost 118,000 of them last year, generating $1.3 million in added revenue. The highest number went to fans of Michigan State University and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Boosters of U of M’s Flint campus were scarcest.
All cost an initial extra $35 for the first year, with $25 going to the cause and $10 for the Secretary of State’s overhead, Woodhams said. The full $10 annual renewal fee goes to the cause.
The recently introduced proposals are generally resurrected from past years when they failed to win approval.
For example, a Humane Society plate bill passed the Senate in 2009 but died in the House. A revived version is pending in both the Senate and House Transportation committees.
The organization runs shelters in Detroit, Rochester Hills and Westland.
Senate sponsors are John Pappageorge, R-Troy; Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights; Jim Marleau, R-Lake Orion; Darwin Booher, R-Evart; and Glenn Anderson, D-Westland. House sponsors are Reps. Chuck Moss, R-Birmingham; Ray Franz, R-Onekama; Bob Genetski, R-Saugatuck; Lesia Liss, D-Warren; Dale Zorn, R-Ida; Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth; Holly Hughes, R-Montague; and Hugh Crawford, R-Novi.
Rep. Jud Gilbert, R-Algonac, sponsored the sports teams measure.
The Boy Scouts proposal comes from GOP Sens. Roger Kahn of Saginaw Township; Rick Jones of Grand Ledge; Arlan Meekhof of Olive Township; John Proos of St. Joseph; and Jack Brandenburg of Harrison Township, among others.
Booher led the Ducks Unlimited sponsors in the Senate. Others included Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton; Goeff Hansen, R-Hart; Hoon-Yung Hopgood, D-Taylor; and Mike Green, R-Mayville. The House version came from 11 representatives, including Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac; Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City; Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo; and Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake.
If any of the proposals become law, groups that benefit must pay a $15,000 start-up fee for the Secretary of State’s office to design and produce their plates.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.
By ERIC FREEDMAN