Monday, March 22, 2010

 

"First" of the Day: The Enron license plate

Florida, like most states, is in dire financial straits. But since it's a also a Republican-dominated state, it has no state income tax, preferring instead to tax the poor and lower middle class within an inch of their lives. 

The state does this through a number of devices.  The best known of them is the lottery, which in the beginning was sold to the public as a way to increase funding for education. What they didn't tell the people was that the state would start decreasing the share of general funds already going for education, which has left all levels of public education in an increasingly sad condition. And now the poor and poorish stand in line at convenience stores to buy their chance for a happy retirement.

Last year's trick was to increase vehicle tag fees by almost 50%.  Republicans don't raise taxes—they raise "fees." State senator Mike Fasano, chairman of the Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Committee, acknowledged this on record—

We increased the fees significantly last year on people who couldn't afford it.

Imagine that!  Now with Republican Governor Charlie Crist trying to overcome the Teabagger crowd to win the Republican nomination for U.S. Senator, he's asked Fasano to see if he can't come up with a remedy.  So Fasano put his Republican mind to the task, and instead of ideas corporate logos popped out.

Here's what he came up with: Florida's "vanity" plates would be offered as a billboard to any corporation willing to buy into the plan. The corporation will pay $200 per tag. Since the current tag fee averages to $71.85 per year, you might think that vehicle owners willing to drive around town with, say, "Exxon" on their rear would get the tag for free or a pittance.  But no.  The proud vehicle owner will still pay $25 for the honor. The state of Florida will pocket the difference.  The cost of all other tags will be reduced by $6.

Fasano's comment, as Bill Kaznor reported it, was precious—

It's better than nothing, isn't it? When you don't have a job and you're trying to afford putting some food on the table ... a reduction of $6 might just be able to give you that opportunity to renew your tag.

Which leaves me with thoughts of dinner: "We're having chicken tonight, honey, 'cause we just got a break on our license plate!"

A "first"

The proposed legislation has a way to go before becoming law.  It was passed unanimously in Fasano's committee and now must pass the Senate Ways and Means committee before coming to a vote on the Senate floor. But no one has introduced an equivalent bill in the House.  But if the measure gets signed into law, Florida will be the first state to feature corporate advertising on its license plates. It will be a proud day for Republicans.

There may be some opposition from Democrats.  Vehicle owners pay $25 extra to sport one of Florida's current crop of over 100 "specialty" plates.  This bill will create a strong economic incentive not to "Support Our Troops" or "Save the Manatee." But Democrats don't have much of a say in Florida.

As I drove down the road musing on our future if the bill passes, I wondered if the corporate sponsors would be vetted in some way.

Christians have been trying to get Jesus on license plates since the first specialty plate was sold.  So why not start a corporation called "Jesus, Inc." and buy into the plan? Or maybe use an existing corporation such as "Paraclete Armor"?  Under the current Supreme Court it seems unstoppable.  Corporations have unlimited freedom of speech, you know.

Then there's the question of financial soundness.  This is the sort of deal that a company like Enron would snap up. Remember how Enron bought the naming rights to the Houston Astros stadium shortly before it went bankrupt? But a stadium is not a license plate.  The city-owned (i.e.—"socialized") baseball stadium was able to tear down the Enron signs and replace them with the jauntier "Minute Maid Park."  But what if the name were on your license plate?  Will the state of Florida allow you to replace your tag with a new corporate logo for free? Or will you just have to skulk around town with your Enron plate until it's time for renewal? You can always try to keep it covered in mud.

Related post
The descent of the Holy Ghost—the lucrative Crusade (8/29/04)

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