The passage of HB 1055 brought some confusion to the issue of fees, so over the next few columns we will discuss what was changed by this bill.
This week’s column covers specialty license plates.
Georgians are able to get a standard plate (with the peach logo on it) for $20 annually. There is a one-time manufacturing fee of $25 when the plate is first issued, which has been about every five years. Neither of these fees were changed under HB 1055. Also not impacted were fees on military plates or plates for the disabled. These were kept at the same level as before.
The only part that was changed in license plates was the application of a uniform rate to specialty license plates. Specialty license plates include college plates, special interest group plates (hobby vehicles and amateur radio for example), plates for nonprofit groups (breast cancer awareness, conservation groups, charities, etc.), personalized plates, and plates for legislators/officials. These plates now have an annual specialty plate fee of $35. This amount is in line with other Southeastern states and in comparison to other states —like Alabama at $50, North Carolina at $50 and South Carolina at $35 — is a good deal.
New — all share in proceeds
There were two big issues that lawmakers tried to address in HB 1055. The first is revenue sharing with nonprofits that are tied with specialty plates. Tag holders who purchase plates associated with nonprofit groups or schools probably thought that a portion of the fee would go to the benefit of that group. This was not always the case prior to HB1055.
In the case of university plates, not one dollar of the fee went to benefit the universities. Now, public and private universities in Georgia will receive $10 annually for each plate issued. The Senate Budget and Evaluation Office (SBEO) projects that funds for scholarships to these institutions will now amount to almost $1 million per year because of changes in HB 1055.
Another strange example is the Support Education Plate (the one with a shiny red apple logo). The general perception was probably that a portion went to improve education in Georgia. However, this plate prior to HB 1055, designated proceeds to a fund that indemnifies public school personnel who have been killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty due to an act of violence committed by someone other than a public school employee. This plate was probably inspired by the events of the Columbine massacre in the late 1990s.
To date, however, the fund has never paid out a single claim and has built up a balance of $2.5 million that legally cannot be spent elsewhere.
Considering that the maximum benefit that can be paid out per occurrence is $75,000, this fund is relatively well funded for any future claims, and that’s a good thing.
Continuing the addition to this fund is not the best use of the money and HB 1055 directed the proceeds to a scholarship fund that is designated by the state superintendent of schools. In this era of budget cuts, this money hopefully will alleviate some of the problems out there.
All fees are now consistent
The other issue that lawmakers tried to address is the inconsistency of fees among the specialty plates. Amateur radio or hobby antique vehicle plate holders were not subject to an annual fee, even though they held specialty plates. Many conservation and wildlife specialty plates were not subject to an annual fee, but rather only a one time manufacturing fee that went to the nonprofit. By applying a standardized system these groups will now have steady stream of income from those who champion the cause through their license plates. SBEO projects that $8.3 million in new funds will now flow to nonprofit groups and schools for their use as a result of HB 1055.
HB 1055 went into effect upon the governor’s signature on May 26. It will take a while for the full impact of the bill, to take hold but a newspaper article from an Augusta paper indicates that not only are sales of these plates staying constant but are actually increasing. The article attributes this increase to the availability of more specialty plates for tag holders to choose from (including new tags for the Georgia Aquarium and the alumni associations of the University of Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina).
One thing that might increase sales in the future is the conversion to digital flat plates from the current embossed plates. Digital flat plates are printed using a special printer and as a result offer more options than the current system. The process is quicker, cheaper and the use of this technology allows more design options. As these options are fully realized groups might choose to have more vivid designs and colors that will draw in more specialty plate holders.
I may be reached at
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E-mail at Jack.Hill@senate.ga.gov
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