Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TxDot's ulterior motive

I'm beginning to think the Texas Department of Transportation is taking all this secessionist talk by Gov. Hair and other Tea Party right-win nuts seriously. I mean, if Texas does secede, then there's no more federal highway funds--Austin becomes the federal government (which really is frightening when you think about it. Can anyone name another country of comparable size whose legislative body meets only 180 days every two years and still can't get anything done?)

But I digress. TxDot must be worried about a possible scarcity of funds should it secede (even though the state would probably get to keep a higher percentage of gasoline taxes, but what good is that with all these damn hybrids and alternative fuel cars on the road today?)

But I digress yet again. Somewhere in the bowels of TxDot's bureaucracy there's a brilliant mind who came up with a novel idea for getting the agency additional funds: "Let's design a license plate so hideous that drivers will pay extra to keep from having to put it on their cars."

I remember when the license plate was first proposed and, at the time, I thought it looked a tad garish. I can't remember all the details, but it was something like this: The state held a contest for 5th grade art students at an Austin elementary school and selected four-to-six finalists for the new plates. A graphic designer wasn't selected to do the plates because, remember, this is supposed to be a money-making, not a money-wasting proposition. The four-to-six finalists were then posted on the Internet and people went on-line to vote, exactly the same method used when the people of Dallas voted overwhelmingly to change the name of Industrial Boulevard to Cesar Chavez Boulevard. TxDot, unlike Dallas, didn't ignore the Internet vote even though it had more reason to ignore it than the city of Dallas did.

Like I said, I thought it was garish when I first saw it. And just sitting here on this page, it looks fairly benign. But lately I have seen it on cars and it looks downright hideous. I mean, it might be OK if you never plan to drive a vehicle with the new plates outside the state of Texas. If you do go beyond the state's borders with this plate, however, be sure to roll the windows up tight and have the stereo at full volume to drown out the laughter and the cat-calls.

However, there is an alternative. For an extra $30, you can order yourself a specialty license plate. I'm not talking about those vanity plates where you try to conceal something clever in as few letters as possible and no one but you can figure out what they mean. These are plates you can order and a small percentage of the proceeds from their sale can benefit the organization you choose to display on your plates. Texas has a whopping 188 choices of speciality plates available even as we speak and more are probably on the way. You can even order Dallas Cowboys specialty plates as though Jerry Jones needs more of your money than you have already given him. You can get a plate for just about any university in the state and a couple (LSU and Florida) that we wouldn't want here. You can get plates celebrating Big Bend National Park or Texas Music (but not Texas film), the Special Olympics, Boys and Girls Scouts, even Red Grapefruit.

I'm thinking TxDot fostered this new license plate on us to further the sales of these specialty plates. I know $30 may not sound like much, but you multiply that by the millions of Texas' registered vehicles and you're beginning to talk real money here. I know I will be ordering one so as not to have to dangle the new state plate from my car.

And I know which specialty plate Gov. Hair will be ordering. There's one that reads: "Texas -- It's Like a Whole Other Country."

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