TALLAHASSEE — With the economy in the tank, a Florida lawmaker is considering an unusual idea to raise money: let corporations pay to put logos on license plates.
The idea of letting corporations like Disney or Nike sponsor license plates is being floated by state Sen. Mike Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican and transportation budget chairman.
"We were asked to come up with new innovative ways to save taxpayers money," Fasano explained. "I figured why not give it a shot and see if people are interested. I think it's a fun choice."
The legislation, which is still being crafted, would generate money for the state but use some proceeds to give drivers a discount on annual registration fees if they get a corporate tag.
Fasano plans to bring the legislation before his colleagues at a hearing next week.
It's not the first time license plates have entered the political discourse. For years, specialty plates such as "Choose Life" or "I Believe" have spurred heated debates.
Texas began allowing corporate license plates in 2009 with a RE/MAX plate featuring the company's hot-air balloon and slogan.
But so far in Florida, the issue is generating mostly laughs.
"Does this mean you can put a beer logo on your license plate?" asked state Sen. Dave Aronberg. "It opens up a world of possibility for late-night comics."
The Greenacres Democrat spoke from his cell phone as he drove down the highway. "The way some people drive, I'm not sure a corporation would want to put their name on a license plate," he added.
It's a serious subject for Sen. Larcenia Bullard, who fought the expansion of specialty plates last year. The state now offers more than 100 designs and more options are proposed this year.
"To further extend this to advertisements, I believe is going too far," the Miami Democrat said.
Fasano said putting advertising on license plates is no different from selling space to McDonald's or Wendy's on blue highway off ramp signs and on city buses.
"We see commercialization everywhere … whether we turn the corner and see a billboard or turn the corner and there's a bench — a simple bench with an advertisement," he said.
Which corporation would Fasano let sponsor his tag? It's a decision with political overtones.
"Ford," he said. "They are the only U.S. car company that didn't take federal bailout money, and plus I've always been a Ford fan."
John Frank can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263.