By MEGAN HARTLEY, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - Do you pilot experimental aircrafts? Are you a bomb technician? Have bees been buzzing about your beekeeping hive? If you answered yes, the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration is happy to make you a commemorative license plate to call your own.
But if you are a mountain dweller, no such luck.
There are more than 900 special interest license plates in Maryland, the MVA says. The Experimental Aircraft Association, the Fraternal Order of Bomb Technicians and the Maryland State Beekeepers Association are all organizations with their own plate, as are the American Cancer Society, the Terrapin Club and the US Marine Corps Reserve.
But the MVA is trying to draw a line between simple organizational plates and the artsier scenic plates like the ones that already exist for the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland agriculture. And for the MVA, the line starts where Western Maryland begins.
Sen. George Edwards, R-Garrett, is backing legislation to create a scenic - or "specialty plate" as the MVA calls it - entitled "Mountain Maryland." But the MVA complained to a Senate committee Tuesday that a third scenic plate would be expensive, time consuming to produce and might not even turn a profit.
"A lot of people do not understand that those fancy multi-colored agricultural and bay tags cost a lot of time and money to make," said Philip Dacey, director of external affairs for the MVA.
Edwards estimated that in its first year, 2008, the Mountain Maryland plate would bring in about $151,000 in profits. "A lot of people in our part of the state who don't buy the bay tags will buy these mountain tags," he said.
Edwards has tried two previous times without success to get the General Assembly to approve the Mountain Maryland plate. Before concluding his testimony before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, he predicted, correctly, that the MVA was planning to "hose him" when its turn came.
And in fact, Dacey argued that if 57,000 Mountain Maryland license plates are not bought in the first year, the MVA will have to recoup the costs by charging drivers more for services such as license renewal.
"The cost will spread and other MVA customers will essentially be subsidizing the plate," said Dacey.
Organizational plates like ones available to the beekeepers and other groups are less ornate than the bay or agriculture scenic plates. Some have small logos - which cost $25 - and some merely have the organizations name across the bottom - which cost $15. The logos are designed by the organizations themselves and submitted to the MVA for approval.
The scenic plates cost a little less than organizational plates, $20. However the revenue is split between the two environmental organizations - the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation. This means the MVA receives about half as much revenue as it would for an organizational plate, according to Buel C. Young, a spokesman for the MVA.
In addition, the scenic plates are much harder to produce. Dacey estimated it will cost about $572,000 to design and distribute the plate in just the first year. (The estimates prompted Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll to joke that perhaps the MVA should stop making the "expensive," special license tags for members of the Maryland Senate.)
Dacey passed around various organizational plates - such as the Maryland Eastern Shore Association to senators - to encourage them to create a Mountain Maryland organizational plate.
One senator asked to keep the Eastern Shore plate for his son.
Edwards, proclaiming it was his "third shot at this," argued that Western Maryland needs "a little more visibility." His previous attempts were shot down because, he said, of the groups he designated as recipient of the proceeds from the plate.
The first time Edwards designated Allegany and Garrett Counties to receive the funds; then he tried the state Transportation Trust Fund. This time, he's settled on the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation.
This third try was apparently more acceptable to many legislators who want all specialty plate revenues to go to the two organizations so that the revenues won't be sliced up. The Chesapeake Bay Trust was created by the legislature in the late 1980s and awards grants to various community organizations serving the bay. The Agricultural Education Foundation takes mobile agricultural laboratories to schools, trade associations, county fairs and agricultural associations. The profits from the new mountain plate would be split evenly between the two organizations.