Thursday, April 14, 2005

'Support our troops' license plate plan hits opposition

While having no problem with Minnesota license plates that help the state buy wet ground, a Republican Senator from Sauk Rapids sees a problem with license plates that raise money to support troops and their families.

Send Senator Severson, a retired military serviceman, your polite thoughts.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposal for a "Support Our Troops" Minnesota license plate that would direct motorists' donations to military members, veterans and their families facing hardship has run into surprising opposition in the Republican-controlled House.

"It's a great concept, but the idea of a separate state fund for individuals is a catch," House sponsor Dan Severson, R-Sauk Rapids, said Wednesday, a day after the measure failed to get out of the Transportation Finance Committee. "Some people are concerned that it would set a precedent for others to ask for the same thing."

Legislative analysts estimate that the plates could raise as much as $2.6 million a year in donations of at least $30 per vehicle. A maximum of $2,000 per individual would be dispensed by a state agency or through a charity such as Friends of Military Families, which has helped relatives travel to the bedsides of wounded soldiers or to military funerals.

The fee would include a one-time handling charge of $10.

The plan mirrors Minnesota's popular "Critical Habitat" license plates, which have raised $12.6 million since 1996 to buy nearly 3,400 acres of public wildlife lands, and "Proud to Be a Veteran" plates, which have yielded $68,000 in two years for a planned Minnesota World War II memorial at the State Capitol.

Various plates for veterans of specific conflicts are also available, as well as plates that support scholarship funds at designated public and private state colleges and universities.

Backers of the "Support Our Troops" proposal predict that it would be popular, especially with drivers now sporting magnetic ribbons bearing the same message. Proceeds from some of those commercial ribbons provide financial support to military families.

Sen. Jim Vickerman, DFL-Tracy, who is carrying the governor's proposal in the Senate, expressed bewilderment over the hangup in the House. It sailed through the Senate State Government Budget Division on Wednesday to the Finance Committee.

"It'll pass our side, no trouble whatsoever," Vickerman said. "It doesn't set a bad precedent. It just shows those people over there that we care. I would like to do more." Once the plates are available, he added, "I'm gonna get one. It'll stay there forever."

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