The state of Idaho, by way of the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD), is losing $3 on the first issuance of custom plates purchased by motorists at the Department of Motor Vehicles.   It is likely that the $3 loss per new plate has cost the state more than $41,000 in the past 18 months.  The loss was first noted by a former aide to Gov. Butch Otter in 2009, when the governor pushed legislation to fix the problem and generate additional revenue for state roads.

The legislation, 2009’s House Bill 150, was pushed by Clete Edmunson, a legislative aide to Otter.  The bill was one of several proposals to increase road funding pitched by the governor’s administration last year.  None of the proposals, including a one penny increase on the gas tax in the state, gained traction with the Legislature.  The bill backed by Otter and Edmunson would have added an additional $20 to the cost of custom license plates, both first-time buys and renewals, and the two men believed it would generate $4 million annually for roadwork.  The bill also noted that ITD was losing $3 for the initial issuance of custom plates.  “Under the current fee structure for the entire specialty and personalized license plate program, the department loses about $3 for each specialty and personalized license plate transaction,” said the bill’s fiscal note.

According to records obtained by, the department sold 9,004 custom plates to first-time buyers in 2009.  Because none of the plates had the additional $3 included, the state likely lost $27,012.  Between January 2010 and June 2010, the state sold 4,928 custom plates to first-time buyers.  This year, the department has likely lost, as of June, $14,784 on plate purchases.  When the figures from the 18 months are combined, it is likely the state lost about $41,794 Reed Hollinshead, spokesman for ITD, has not confirmed the actual dollar amount lost in the past 18 months.

More than a year later, the losses are still happening – sort of.  Hollinshead, did confirm the $3 loss in an e-mail  “ITD’s loss only occurs in the first year on new personalized or new personalized specialty plates, since plate renewals are processed by each County office,” said Hollinshead.  “This is due to the fact that only some of the transactions (a myriad of transactions on specialty plate programs) produce revenue, and others the department provides for no charge.”

Hollinshead said that newer plates – those approved by lawmakers in 2009 and 2010 – account for the difference.  In 2010, Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, successfully sponsored a mountain biking license plate to his colleagues, which will be released in early 2011.  The text of Cronin’s legislation denotes a $13 appropriation from the amount motorists pay into the state highway fund, which covers the cost of administration of the specialty plate programs.  Bills approved prior to 2009, like a piece of legislation given the OK in 2008 to create an Idaho rangeland license plate, don’t cover the $3 loss and only allow for $10 of fees to go to cover the cost of the plate program.

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About The Author

Dustin Hurst serves as the Communication Director for the Idaho Freedom Foundation. He graduated from Boise State in 2009. His work has been featured by Fox News, Townhall, Public Sector Inc., the Daily Caller, Reason, Human Events, the Spokesman Review and more. He and his wonderful wife Julia have two cute kids. The family resides in Middleton.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ty Palmer, said: State has lost more than $41,000 on custom plates in last 18 months […]

  2. I’m confused by your reporting.

    First and foremost, when someone buys a custom and/or personalized plate, how is it that the state is losing money? And plates run for what, 4 or 5 years before replacement? So if the state loses $3 the first year, but makes $10 or $15 or whatever it is for the next 3 or 4, that’s a different story.

    Talking about Cronin’s bill, you wrote “The text of Cronin’s legislation denotes a $13 appropriation from the amount motorists pay into the state highway fund, which covers the cost of administration of the specialty plate programs.”

    “Denotes” is not the word you want. Designates? Even with that, I can’t quite parse your sentence. The amount motorists pay is part of their registration?

    Your article is lacking context–how much money does the state make, and spend on personalized plates overall–and so the explanatory power to tell us what this $3 you’re talking about is.

    Is the state actually losing $3 per plate, or is there a $3 charge it could be collecting, but isn’t?

    As for the bigger picture — if indeed the state decides to add another $20 to the price of custom plates (price, not cost? Those words mean different things), they will sell fewer of them, because the demand is not inelastic.

    The suggestion is that the state is buggering the selling of this novelty item, but I can’t make sense of your report, so maybe it’s just that that’s buggered.

  3. Fort,

    It costs the state $13 to administer the plate program, but all plates authorized by the Legislature prior to ’09 only charge $10. The state IS LOSING $3 per plate.

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