April 10, 2020
Editorials Latest News | Coronavirus | Bangor Metro | Christopher Cassidy | Today's Paper

The Price of Vanity Plates

Mainers pay $25 extra per year for those clever — or sometimes inscrutable — license plates known as vanity plates. They cost far more in Abu Dhabi, the richest city in the world. Businessman Saeed Khouri paid $14 million for the “1” tag, and his cousin, Talal Khouri, paid $9 million for “5.”

The state of Maine made $2,750,874 from the sale of vanity plates in 2010. The Legislature raised the fee from $15 to $25 in September 2008, and the revenue went up accordingly.

That may suggest to the new governor and some members of the new Legislature that charging more for vanity plates would be a good way to increase revenues and help balance the budget in these troubled times. Texas charges $195 and expects its annual take from the fancy plates to reach $25 million in five years. Minnesota charges $100. California charges $98. Next-door New Hampshire charges $40.

But Cathie Curtis, who keeps track of the Maine figures as deputy secretary of state for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, warns that there’s a limit to how high the fees could go. She notes that the number of vanity plate holders had been growing steadily for many years to a high of 112,456 in 2008. But when the annual charge was nearly doubled in 2009 sales began dropping, down to 109,810 in 2010.

And, besides, Maine isn’t oil-rich Abu Dhabi or even Texas. She warns that another jump in the Maine fee could bring a drop in total revenue.

The low-number plates may be something else. Maine calls them “out-of-rotation” plates and charges only a one-time fee of $15, up from $5 a few years ago. Many people like them and might pay a good bit more for the privilege, possibly on an annual basis. And there seems to be no justification for the holder of a low-number plate to pass it on to relatives or friends for an indefinite chain of no-pay ownership.

Trying to find new revenue by fiddling with the license plate fees won’t produce a huge windfall, but it is worth further consideration.

On the other hand, the special plates come with a down side. They can be easier for a police cruiser to spot if the driver exceeds the speed limit or drifts over the centerline or commits some other infraction.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

You may also like