Drivers keep demanding more specialty car tags
By Emily Wagster Pettus
Expensive license plates, like heat and humidity, are just a fact of life in Mississippi. Complaining about them is a unifying feature of the state’s culture.
License plates can cost hundreds of dollars annually for city, county and school taxes. The newer the vehicle and the higher the local taxes, the harder a driver’s wallet is hit.
Still, tens of thousands of people willingly shell out a few extra bucks a year for a specialty car tag to express something about their personalities or their priorities.
Drivers can show off logos for public and private universities in the state, and for a few schools from other places. They can support wildlife or NASCAR or even the New Orleans Saints. They can proclaim their love of the blues or Elvis Presley, or their support for bicycling, kickboxing or youth soccer.
The state has a long list of specialty tags that grows longer each legislative session as new groups request permission for a state-sanctioned design.
University tags cost an extra $51 a year, and many other specialty tags cost $31, with the bulk of the money going to the cause displayed on the license plate. For many tags, a portion of the fee goes to highway maintenance and some goes to a medical fund for burn victims.
The NASCAR tags come in different designs and cost $36. They help pay for upkeep of the Capitol, the Old Capitol Museum, the Governor’s Mansion and the War Memorial Building in downtown Jackson. The Saints tag, which costs $50, helps pay for Infinity Science Center at the NASA site in Hancock County.
The website for the state Department of Revenue has a detailed list of how the money from specialty tags is distributed.
The site also has a list showing the top sellers . In May 2016, there were 53,816 university tags; 22,409 wildlife tags; 9,565 with the Mississippi Nurses Foundation logo; 8,829 with NASCAR designs; and 6,586 with the slogan “Choose Life.” The “Choose Life” tags were sought 15 years ago by abortion opponents, and part of the money from the tag is supposed to go to centers that provide information to women facing unplanned pregnancies.
This year’s car tag legislation reflects a diversity of interests in Mississippi. New license plate designs are authorized starting July 1.
One new tag will raise money for a foundation to cure sickle cell anemia, a blood disease that can delay growth and cause organ damage and vision problems. It primarily affects black people.
Another new tag is really a variation on an old one. For years, Sons of Confederate Veterans has had a specialty tag for cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles in Mississippi. This year, legislators agreed that the group could have a specialty tag for motorcycles.
Fans of the Memphis Grizzlies NBA team are getting a tag, as are people who want to display their loyalty to any of Mississippi’s 15 community or junior colleges.
Joining several other public private or parochial schools authorized for their own license plates are the Booneville, Natchez-Adams and Pass Christian school districts and Saint Patrick Catholic School in Harrison County. The cost: $30.
The Mississippi Nurses Foundation tag fee is increasing from $31 to $50, with the extra money going to the foundation itself.
Getting legislative authorization for a specialty tag design is just one step. In most cases, at least 200 or 300 people must commit to buying a particular design before the state will produce and sell it. Over the years, some tags have been authorized but never produced because of low demand.
Emily Wagster Pettus has covered Mississippi government and politics since 1994. Follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.