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Emergency Management 12


Recommendation

Offer “United Americans” or “Land of the Free” license plates and dedicate revenue to disaster assistance and special program funding.


Summary

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) provides Texans with the choice of more than 100 different special license plates if they do not want standard license plates. A division of TxDOT called the Special Plates Branch of the Vehicle Titles and Registration Division (VTR) processes applications, determines whether a person or organization meets the qualifications and issues the license plates. TxDOT uses the following categories: exempt, military and prestige.

The exempt category is for governmental entities. The military category consists of about 20 different plates, including those for disabled veterans, veterans awarded the Purple Heart, veterans of World War II and Vietnam. The prestige plates cover numerous categories like universities, the arts and conservation.

TxDOT receives applications and the appropriate fees from individuals or organizations. The application forms are available from the county tax assessor-collector’s offices, a Vehicle Titles and Registration regional office, or TxDOT’s toll-free number and Internet site. TxDOT’s Special Plates System produces a schedule that notifies the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) that the plates should be produced. Upon completion of production, TDCJ sends that plate to the appropriate assessor-collector’s office, while TxDOT notifies the individual or organization that the plate is ready to be picked up. A multi-year renewal is handled differently, using a windshield sticker for the renewal.

Fees for each of the specialty plates are set by statute in addition to the normal registration process and range widely with $30 as the most commonly charged fee.[1] Often a part of each fee (usually $5) is retained by TxDOT to cover the cost of producing and issuing the license plate.[2] TxDOT also has a special provision that requires a deposit of $15,000 for each new specialty plate that covers up-front production costs.[3] The fees from the sale of specialty license plates are dedicated to the project or organization promoting the plate.

The only advertising TxDOT does for the specialty plates is a small insert placed in license plate renewal notices sent in the mail. The “United Americans” or “Land of the Free” plate could be advertised more widely, possibly using a special mail insert, posters in assessor-collector’s offices and other locations, special service announcements and other public relations campaigns.

Texas should dedicate the “United Americans” or “Land of the Free” license plates revenue to a special fund for relief efforts such as Texas Tomorrow Fund scholarships provided to children of military and civilian personnel killed or injured in the nation’s war on terrorism or in disaster responses. The revenue also could be used for special counseling for families of victims and other needs identified by the Legislature.


Legislative Changes Required

Texas law would need to be changed to authorize the specialty plate called “United Americans” or “Land of the Free” and to dedicate the revenue to a special fund within the General Revenue Fund for disaster and war projects. The legislation should exempt this plate from the $15,000 up-front collection by TxDOT for its costs, but continue to allow a $5 recovery by TxDOT of production costs on each plate made. The Legislature should authorize the Comptroller of Public Accounts to advertise the plates and coordinate private efforts to advertise the license plate fundraising effort.


Fiscal Impact

The specialty license plate fee should be set at $30 for each license issued to an individual or organization and $15 for any additional vehicle licenses by the same person or group. Of that amount, $5 would be allocated to TxDOT to cover license plate production costs, with the remaining amount deposited into a dedicated account within the General Revenue Fund.

If the average revenue per plate was $25 and the state sold half as many “United Americans” or “Land of the Free” plates as it sold “Texas, State of the Arts” plates, the estimated gain to a dedicated account in the General Revenue Fund would be about $210,000. This includes a six-month start-up period, allowing four months of revenue in the first year of sales. Advertising costs would come from existing budgets. The Highway Fund would get about $52,500 each year, after the initial start-up period.


[1] Texas Department of Transportation, “FY 2000 Special Plates Information,” Austin, Texas, February 22, 2001.

[2] Interview with Scott Renard, director of administrative services, Texas Department of Transportation, Vehicle Titles and Registration Division, Austin, Texas, October 5, 2001.

[3] TEX. TRANSP. CODE ANN. Sec. 502.2526.