Sun-Sentinel - Ft. Lauderdale FLA
Good and Bad News on License Plates
June 20, 2013
By Sun Sentinel Editorial Board
It's hard to understand why Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a bill that would have increased the fee for the Florida Wildflower license plate from $15 to $25. After all, buying a specialty plate for your motor vehicle is completely voluntary, and in this case, the money would have helped pay to make our roadways prettier.
The veto came as a surprise because as the Miami Herald reported, just last month our cost-conscious governor approved a $25 specialty tag for Freemasonry. And last week, he approved specialty license plates for three groups: the American Legion, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Lauren's Kids, each of which cost $25 for those willing to pay up.
"I'm stunned," said Lisa Roberts, executive director of the Florida Wildflower Foundation, which had hoped to bolster roadside plantings with the fee increase. The wildflower license plate has raised about $3 million since it was established 13 years ago, but proceeds have fallen off in recent years.
The governor's veto is rather surprising because the bill unanimously passed the hyper-partisan Florida Legislature — a rare feat, indeed. And if you believe people in a free market should be able to pay extra for products they like better, where's the harm?
More importantly, the wildflower kerfuffle made us question the status of another license plate matter this editorial board railed against six months ago: the newly designed official license plate.
As we said when the design was first chosen, it's ugly. It's flat. It's dull. It lacks any of the style and sizzle that defines Florida. It looks like a committee of 20 state bureaucrats designed it. And guess what? They did.
The bureaucrats tricked us into thinking the design was all our idea. They held a contest and asked us to pick the best of four designs, each of which looked pretty much like the next.
Enter a Tallahassee public relations guy named Kevin Cate, who had a friend design a license plate that anyone would be proud to put on his car. It had pleasing colors. It showed the sun's rays. It celebrated the orange. It was offered for free to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Sadly, the state flat-out rejected the prettier plate. A spokeswoman told us if the state considered Cate's free offer, it would have to consider other free offers.
In truth, politics was at play. Lobbyists wanted the license plate business outsourced to private industry, and taken from the firm that manages prison labor to print license plates. So the new design came with specifications the prison-labor company couldn't meet. To make a prettier plate, the state argued, would cost more — no matter that Florida has more than 100 pretty vanity plates.
But that was six months ago. And recently, we observed that the outside contract hasn't happened.
So given this week's brouhaha over the wildflower plate, we called to inquire about the status of the official ugly plate.
And guess what? Good news! "The department is continuing to evaluate options related to updating the look of the standard Florida license plate," Courtney Heidelberg, deputy communications director, told us in an email.
To make sure we understood her correctly — that the state has given up on the ugly design — we called Heidelberg. "It means we haven't committed to that design," she confirmed.
So, good news on the license plate front. While the specialty wildflower plate won't get a needed financial boost, the rest of us won't be wearing a wallflower on the back of our cars.