Mainers support animal welfare plate

Posted Sept. 15, 2008, at 8:04 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — More than 2,000 Mainers have put up $50,000 to start the process for a new license plate that will benefit state animal welfare programs, but Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap is cautioning there is a limit to how many fundraising plates the state can manage.

“We think this will have strong support in the Legislature because it’s about animals,” Norma Worley, director of the state Animal Welfare Program, said Monday. “The plate says ‘rescue, love, adopt.’ The people of Maine have showed us they go to an animal shelter first when they want an animal and I think they are very proud of the fact they love their dogs or cats or horses.”

The state requires that the “upfront” costs of producing a specialty license plate be raised before the Legislature will consider any new plate. That supporters were able to raise the $50,000 is an indicator of how much support the animal welfare plate has among Mainers, Worley said.

At a ceremony where a check for the $50,000 raised by the Maine Adoption Leaders Team was given to Dunlap, Worley praised the group, which was founded last May with the goal of raising funds for the plate before the next legislative session.

“Their hard work is what made this happen,” she said.

MALT includes private companies such as Planet Dog, as well as the Animal Welfare Society, the Animal Refuge League, the Maine chapter of the Humane Society of the United States and the state’s Animal Welfare Program.

Under the proposal, half of the revenues raised by the sale of the plate would support animal cruelty and abuse investigations. The other half would supplement state appropriations for the Help Fix ME Program, which provides spay and neuter services.

“It’s a start,” Worley said. “We have great demands on our shelters, and we just don’t have the resources to meet the demands that are out there.”

Dunlap said his wife serves on the board of a local animal shelter and he is very aware of the need for additional revenue. But in an interview, he cautioned that the state is fast reaching its capacity for specialty plates.

“We just can’t handle many more, even though there are many ideas out there to help good causes,” he said.

Dunlap said there are now eight revenue-producing plates approved and seven available. The most popular, the conservation, or loon, plate, had 62,287 plates issued at the end of August. There were 26,368 lobster plates, 10,092 agriculture plates, 10,703 black bear plates, 7,370 University of Maine plates, 3,676 sportsman plates and 2,553 support troops plates at the end of last month.

The breast cancer support services plate becomes available Oct. 1.

“And there are other plates we issue as well, like the veterans plate and the Purple Heart plate,” Dunlap said. “They are specialty plates, but they are not fundraising plates.”

In addition to the various plate types, Mainers also may pay extra for specific letter and number combinations on any of the plates. That, Dunlap said, is why the state is pushing up against a practical limit on how many plates can be issued.

“There are something like a million and a half plates of all types issued by us for all types of vehicles and trailers” he said. “They all are made the same way and we simply cannot handle many more plates and get everything made without a significant increase in the costs.”

Plates are made at a facility operated by the Maine State Prison, he noted. Each plate change takes time, and the facility is not geared to turn out a “huge number” of plates, he added

Dunlap said the state has addressed a concern raised by law enforcement officials over the proliferation of different types of plates. Police were getting number combinations that were used on both a regular plate and specialty plates, leading to confusion.

“We now have a distinct number-letter combination for every new type of plate we issue,” he said. “We believe that will address the confusion problem.”

While Dunlap’s office has a draft design for the animal welfare plate, that design, as well as the issuance of the new plate, depends on legislative action.

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