Idaho car owners could soon have the opportunity to pay for the privilege of showing their support for mountain biking or the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in north central Idaho. The Senate Transportation Committee Thursday approved new specialty license plates for biking and the wilderness. The new plates would cost an additional $35 above vehicle registration fees, and include a $25 annual fee. From that added cost, $12 a year would go to the state highway construction fund. The rest would go to the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation (IDPR) for the mountain biking plates or the Selway-Bitterroot Foundation for the wilderness plates.
“This is in fact a moneymaker for the state,” said Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, who sponsored the mountain biking plate. “I know that there’s a tremendous demand for this plate … This is a bill that can generate some revenue at a time when we are looking under every rock.”
Leo Hennesy, IDPR’s non-motorized trails program manager, said the revenue from the mountain bike plates would help fund multi-use trails that are open to bikes. “Most trails need annual maintenance to be usable and sustainable,” he said. He said he personally knows 100 people who would buy the special plate. “Let’s not lose the trail legacy that Idaho’s known for.”
Boise resident Geoff Baker helped write the legislation for the new mountain bike plate, and said he estimates that 1,500 plates would be sold. If Idahoans don’t buy 1,000 plates after five years, specialty license plates are discontinued. “This is essentially found money for the state,” Baker told lawmakers. He also formed a non-profit organization that has pledged to cover the initial costs of the new plates and writes a blog tracking the progress of the special biking plate.
Moscow Democrat Shirley Ringo is sponsoring the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness plate. She said she already has two specialty license plates, and would buy a third one if the wilderness plate becomes available.
The money would go to the Selway-Bitterroot Foundation, a non-profit promoting stewardship of the wilderness. The wilderness area straddles the Idaho/Montana border, but the foundation’s executive director, Rob Mason, said the group would make sure all the revenue from the plates will stay in Idaho. “We want to make sure you’ll know that every penny will be spent within the state of Idaho,” he said. The foundation would set up a separate bank account for the fund money and file annual reports showing how it is spent. It would also fund the initial costs of the special plate. Mason said that while the foundation is a stewardship organization, it also helps the north central Idaho economy. “We are constantly raising funds from outside the county and outside the state and bringing that money into Idaho County to do work.”
Idaho currently has 42 specialty license plates, according to Amy Smith, the vehicle services manager for the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD). She said adding more plates doesn’t hurt ITD’s efficiency. “Our administrative costs remain the same whether we have four specialty plates or 40 specialty plates,” she said. All the specialty plates are produced on demand, which Smith said saves the state money. “We’re not investing in a lot of plates that sit around and gather dust.” She said the ITD will discontinue two plates, for historic Lewiston and school bus transportation safety, because they haven’t sold 1,000 plates in five years. “I think that we’re going to be able to weed out the ones that aren’t so popular,” she said.
Only Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, spoke against the specialty plates. “We’re finding other ways to fund some very good organizations, and that’s a good thing, [but] if you want to fund it then go fund it,” he said. “Don’t use the license plate system to do it.” He said adding new plates also waters down the state’s vehicle licensing system. Raising license fees has been discussed as one source of additional money for highway construction.