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Fri, Oct. 18

Editorial: Nonprofits caught in middle of plate frenzy

Before people get in a dither over the pros and cons of specialty license plates that Arizona issues to vehicle owners, perhaps there is need for some study of the issue in order to make an informed, logical decision.

A bill that is winding its way through state House now would put the skids to what has become a popular way for nonprofit groups to make a little extra cash for their charitable efforts. These particular specialty plates are different than vanity plates, in that they espouse causes rather than show off witticisms in numbers and letters of the alphabet.

Drivers with specialty plates pay an extra $25 above the basic cost for a regular license plate. The state keeps $8 to cover its costs, and the remaining $17 goes to charities sponsoring the plate. If the bill makes it to passage, the bill would let people who now have specialty plates keep them, but the money would go into a state fund and not the respective charities when and if the bill becomes law.

Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said the state has allowed an over abundance of said plates and that it's out of the state's realm to raise money for charities. "The whole purpose of this is to avoid being a 700-special-plate state like Maryland," he said in an Associated Press story.

Farley raises a good point, but let's hold the fort for a bit and ask for some facts before rushing toward what appears to be another attempt at money grabbing by the Arizona Legislature.

Nonprofit organizations struggle constantly to provide the services they offer to people who need help. How much money is the specialty plate program really diverting to sponsoring charities? Are we talking about so much money that it would make a significant difference in the state's general fund?

Other than charities and the state's major universities, what about the plates touting major sports teams? Classic cars? Farm vehicles? Arizona Agriculture? The list amounts to more than 50 plates singling out one group or another for recognition.

License plates have one intended purpose - easy identification of a vehicle. With that in mind, perhaps it is time to halt the specialty plate program before it spins out of control.

Just be fair, lawmakers, with your decision. Going after only nonprofits sends a bad message.

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