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Wednesday, June 28th, 2017Last Update: Thursday, May 4th, 2017 02:03:55 PM

New License Plates Create Revenue Windfall

By: Constitution Staff

On August 22, Gov. Mary Fallin led an interagency coalition in unveiling the design for Oklahoma’s new state license plate, titled “Explore Oklahoma.” The new plate depicts Oklahoma’s state bird, a scissor-tailed flycatcher, soaring over lakes, mountains and mesas. The new plates will prominently display the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation’s website, TravelOK.com, and feature two distinct, more visible boxes for registration decals (displaying month and year separately). They will be printed on prismatic sheeting, enhancing their visibility at night. Drivers will receive their new license plates beginning in January 2017.

The new design will replace the one in use for the past seven years which features the “Sacred Rain Arrow” from the sculpture by Oklahoma artist Allan Houser and the “Native America” slogan. “The new design will act as a traveling billboard for those looking to experience and explore our beautiful state,” said Fallin. “Just as important, the new plates are more clearly visible at night and will aid our law enforcement officers as they work to keep us safe.”

It was claimed that Oklahoma’s previous plates – which have been used since 2009 – are beginning to deteriorate, dulling the reflective sheeting on them and making them more difficult to see at night. The Oklahoma Safety Council and the Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police had spoken out during the last legislative session about the importance of more visible license plates, which are used by law enforcement officers to locate suspected felons and respond to Amber and Silver Alerts. They noted that many states issue new license plates every five years for those reasons. “When a state trooper pulls someone over, the first thing that trooper does is run the license plate,” said Oklahoma Highway Patrol Chief Ricky Adams. “That’s how we alert our dispatchers that we are on a stop and get our first clue of a potentially dangerous situation. The ability to quickly see and easily read a tag number in bad weather or low light conditions is of paramount importance to law enforcement.”

The new plates are also sufficiently different that police will quickly figure out who’s paid their annual registration fee, which requires proof of liability insurance. All drivers must acquire a new plate by the end of 2017 and show proof of both insurance and vehicle registration. “Oklahoma has the unfortunate distinction of being a national leader in uninsured motorists,” said Insurance Commissioner John Doak. “That phenomenon makes our roads less safe and is unfair to the majority of Oklahomans who comply with the law and drive responsibly. A license plate reissue is a responsible and reliable way of increasing the number of drivers with insurance.”

Oklahoma Tax Commissioner Dawn Cash said the state would also gain from increasing registration compliance. “The Tax Commission estimates that the state is owed approximately $4 million from thousands of Oklahomans who are out of compliance and failed to pay their registration fees last year,” Cash said. “Not only is that unfair to the Oklahomans who are following the law and registering their vehicles, it also significantly diminishes revenue going to public schools, local governments and other priority needs. New license plates will help us reduce non-compliance and enforce the rules of the road.”

Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation Executive Director Dick Dutton said the new plates will help spur Oklahoma’s tourism industry. “Tourism in Oklahoma is an $8.9 billion industry that supports approximately 95,400 jobs and generates $2 billion in payroll,” said Dutton. “Our new plates will help increase traffic at TravelOK.com and act as another great marketing tool for the state.”

The new design features a white portrait of the state bird gliding over a lake. Behind the bird are outlines of mesas. There has been criticism of the departure from the state’s Native American heritage. While it features the state bird, the scissor-tailed flycatcher, many say the white silhouette over a blue background is hard to recognize. Some also charge that it is reminiscent of the Twitter bird logo or the “Mockingjay” of the “Hunger Games” series.

The new plates were authorized by House Bill 3208, authored by Rep. Earl Sears (R-Bartlesville) and Sen. Clark Jolley (R-Edmond). Since the new plates come at the time of a state budget shortfall, the bill tacks on an extra five dollars to the fee for new registrations and renewals, ostensibly to cover the cost for the new plates. It is estimated that 3.7 million new plates will be issued as a result of the legislation, which will generate $18.5 million in additional revenue. It is expected that another $4 million will be generated by people who are not currently registering their vehicles, but will do so since it will be difficult to get by with out of date plates. So, the new plates are expected to reap $22.5 million for the state.

The state’s Oklahoma Corrections Industries (OCI), which uses inmate labor, will produce the plates at a cost of about $2.00 per plate, or $7.4 million for the estimated 3.7 million required new plates. So, by charging vehicle owners more than the plates cost to make, the state will realize a $15 million windfall in new revenue. The excess revenue will be dedicated to the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety.

The new plate production will also benefit the 3M Company which provides the machines and the materials to manufacture the plates. According to Terri Watkins, a spokesperson for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, the state will pay 3M $1 million for the first million plates. So, depending on the rate for the remaining plates, 3M could receive close to $4 million from the state if 3.7 million are produced. Reportedly 3M had several lobbyists working the halls of the Oklahoma Legislature to support passage of the bill

Oklahoman’s registering a vehicle are already being charged the additional fee even though the new plates will not be available until January. However, the fee will be dropped on June 30 of next year. This is because the state “Fiscal Year” begins on July 1 and ends on June 30. So, those who pay the extra fee this year will get their new plates next year.

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