Specialty Arts License Plates

Specialty Plates Overview

State legislatures can use a variety of mechanisms to supplement general fund support for state arts agencies (SAAs). A well-rounded view of theses mechanisms and strategies is found in NASAA’s Supplemental Funding Policy Brief. One mechanism used by a number of states is the specialty arts license plate, which generally contains a distinctive design and an arts message. For example, California’s iconic “Coastline” specialty plate was designed by California artist Wayne Thiebaud in 1993. These plates generate revenue for SAAs and their constituents through a fee assessed in addition to the regular state licensing fee. Currently, 14 states (Alabama, California, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia) have arts license plates. One state (Maine) is in the process of organizing its program.

Typically, a specialty plate contributes between $25 and $30 toward the cause or organization it supports, with a fee that is levied in addition to the normal license fee. In fiscal year 2015, license plate fees added nearly $9 million to state arts agency funds. This supplemental income generally is applied to state arts programming, though Indiana uses the income to build its state cultural trust and Florida uses the funds to support arts organizations in each of its counties. Additionally, specialty plates can serve as an advocacy tool and raise the visibility of the agency or the arts in general.

However, license plate programs can be difficult to forge, and have their drawbacks. State officials are often concerned about the cost of designing a plate when it is for a small constituency or when demand is low. The cost of designing a plate is generally between $10,000 and $20,000, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). As a result, before they will approve a new plate, many states require an interest group to get signatures for plate support or to cover the manufacturing costs.

One of the largest difficulties associated with specialty plates is their ever increasing availability from all types of groups. According to NCSL, 24 states have more than 100 unique specialty plates, and several states, including Texas, Pennsylvania and Maryland, have more than 300. The availability of multitudinous specialty plates of all types can make it difficult for arts license plates to thrive in a tight market. Additionally, the administration and collection of revenues for specialty plates, regardless of type, has been problematic in a few states. Despite these challenges, a number states have made specialty plate sales a viable source of supplemental funding for the arts.

For more information and detailed data on license plates or other supplemental funding strategies, please contact Ryan Stubbs.

SAA License Plate Programs

State Year Authorized How Plate Generates Funds for SAA Funds Go Toward
Alabama

Alabama license plate

1996 $50 fee minus the state administrative cost, split between the arts council and two education bureaus Arts education and local arts programming
California

California license plate

1994 Approximately $35 of the $50 new arts plate fee goes to the SAA; renewals of $40 all go to the SAA Arts education and local arts programming
Florida

Florida license plate

1994 Arts organizations receive $20 per plate sold One qualified arts organization in each county, to support arts activities
Hawaii

Hawaii license plate

2001 Hawaii Arts Alliance receives $20 per new plate and per renewal Arts education and advocacy; arts-based community building
Indiana

Indiana license plate

1998 SAA’s trust fund receives $25 per plate sold State cultural trust
Kansas

Kansas license plate

1998 SAA receives entire annual fee of $50 per plate Local arts programming
Nevada

Nevada license plate

2000 Arts education programs receive $15 per new plate and $10 per plate renewal Nevada Arts Council’s Arts in Education program and statewide activities of VSA arts of Nevada
New Hampshire

New Hampshire license plate

1998 SAA receives some project funds from multi-agency conservation plate Conservation projects
New York

New York license plate

1999 SAA receives $15 per plate sold Arts grant making and programming
Oregon

Oregon license plate

2001 SAA trust fund receives $30 per plate sold State cultural trust
South Carolina

South Carolina license plate

2005 Arts education programs will receive $60 for each plate sold Arts education
Tennessee

Tennessee license plate

1994 SAA receives $30.75 for every specialty plate sold General operating support grants; arts in education activities
Texas

Texas license plate

1993 SAA receives $22 per plate sold Arts and cultural programs, and to raise awareness of the cultural fund
Virginia

Virginia license plate

1996 Special fund for SAA receives $15 per plate sold Local arts and community programming

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