How to save $2m+ per year from the state budget

Hi Will – you may remember that the state has been through bad times before and there were lots of creative ways of saving money.

I was reminded of one way today in a discussion with a colleague from Canada — it’s quite simple — you can cut upwards of $2mm from the budget by eliminating the issuance of front license plates (that’s in 1980’s $’s – sorry, I don’t know today’s $’s but I’m sure it’s equally substantial).

Quebec and Alberta stopped issuing front plates in the 80’s as did 40% of all the US states.

So why do we issue two plates when we have a historical precedent of simply issuing one (remember the “greenies” issued 1977-1994 as rear-only plates)? You’d think the police would support this, but at the statehouse hearing in 1987 to reinstate the front license plates, the representative from the Massachusetts State Police said that “front license plates are pretty much worthless in police work – unless you require a much larger, simplified plate (more like the European plates), readable at a “closing speed” of at least 100 MPH we would never use them”  The rest of the discussion focused on how the proposed plate design could never meet this standard, so the police are actually, fine about the one-plate solution.

Another downside of the two plate solution is that unregistered cars more easily get onto the road when someone “splits the pair” among two cars (It’s no secret that there’s not a lot of enforcement associated with missing front plates in a state that has a history of not issuing them for ~20 years (1977-1994)).

So, why do we pay the extra $2mm (in 1980’s dollars) for this luxury when our schools and social services go unfunded?

Patriotism! (oh yeah, and marketing)!

The new plates were designed in 1988 in the new Red-white and blue motif. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Red/white/blue  fever was all over the place – some other states jumped on the bandwagon and we wanted to show our support for the stars and stripes and get that “Spirit of America” message out while traveling the country. Most of the other “stars-n-stripes” motifs have since gone by the wayside, but we persist. Now-days, I guess we just want to keep the cons in prison who make these things gainfully employed.

You’ve gotta ask yourself if it’s worth it.

Can I ask you to introduce legislation to eliminate this shameful waste of state funds?

Thanks Will and good luck in your race.


List of states: Of particular amusement, note that MA is the only state listed in green (“one or two plates”)

32 replies on “How to save $2m+ per year from the state budget”

  1. Thanks, Rich,

    Let me check in to this. You make some good points. I certainly would support the legislation if the only argument for front plates is marketing.

    I’ll be in touch with the registry and report back.


  2. According to the Registry, the move back to having 2 plates was at the request of public safety. Local and particularly state police are strongly in support of 2 plates in order to identify a car from both directions. (I note the statement in your post to the contrary, but this is what we have from the Registry.)

  3. Interesting – so how much are we paying for this “convenience” that in 1977 they (the police) said they could clearly live without and did so for 20 years? I’m also curious – what statistics did they quote you to support their position? Do they have a count of the number of times a front plate has solved a crime?

    During the hearings to reinstate the 2 plate system, a representative of the Mass State Police specifically indicated they did not care about front plates because they are not usable at a closing speed of 110 MPH (55 MPH x 2 – ie, a police car on one side of the road approaching a care on the other side of the road, both moving at approximately 55 MPH)

    I was at the hearing. I heard it with my own ears — I had even carted in a European plate to demonstrate how you could make plates usable by adherence to European size and I specifically remember one legislator joking “I don’t think we can change the format of the plate, but I’d like to see the Mercedes that came off of”.

    Will, given the current economic climate, we need to challenge the status quo and find new and creative ways of stretching our tax dollars. As the Belmont override failure showed, it’s no longer acceptable for the public sector to demand more cash “just because”.

    In private industry, we have a policy — if you cannot demonstrate and quantify value, then there’s no point in spending money on it. Front plates may be a minor issue, but clearly fall into the category of questionable value given that half of North America has already eliminated them as an expense.

    I would encourage you as our representative to not just accept a pat answer of “just because” from anyone in government. It’s time to examine our priorities and if front license plates are more critical then school music programs, or physical fitness, or meals for the elderly, then by all means, let’s continue to fund the program, otherwise, perhaps the Police are willing to have the cost of the plates taken out of THEIR budget if it’s that important to them and helps them do their job.

    At the very least, I would encourage you to initiate legislation to facilitate the debate.

  4. Sure. I’d be happy to initiate legislation to facilitate the debate. Your point of view makes sense to me. There are no stats offered at least so far.

    The normal filing deadline is start of term, so January 2011. Let’s make sure we talk in December to get something in the hopper.

  5. OK, It’s December! We’re still broker-than-ever in MA. $2m+ on the table, there for the taking! I’d rather see it go to school kids, seniors or infrastructure, rather than wasting it on a hunk of metal which, by the way, only contributes to Global Warming! (The manufacturing process — see, it’s a win-win, even for Democrats!)

    1. Hey Rich,

      Sorry this inquiry got by me. We are on this.

      We’ve actually already drafted a bill to address this proposal and have been circulating it for review.

      I’ll ask my aide to post the current draft here for you.


  6. 🙂
    Perfect – Just thought you were caught up in the Holidays (it happens!)

    Please let me know what I can do to help – I was down at the state house when the hearings were held to reinstate the front plates (was against it then, am against it now!)

    1. Rep. Brownsberger asked me to provide the draft language for the single registration plate bill he is planning to file in January:


      Section 1. Section 2 of Chapter 90 of the General Laws as appearing in the 2008 official edition is hereby amended in the seventh paragraph, line 2, by striking the words “two number plates of suitable design” and inserting the words “one number plate of suitable design to be placed at the rear of the vehicle”,……
      Section 2. Section 6 of Chapter 90 of the General Laws as appearing in the 2008 official edition is hereby amended in line 6 by striking the following words: “at the front and”. …

      Barbara Miranda, Legislative Aide

  7. 🙂

    Excellent – Also, please let me know when you have a Bill reference, I will pass along to several groups I participate in and ask them to contact their reps to ask them to support it.

  8. Here’s a copy of a letter I sent to my Massachusetts State Rep on this topic:

    30 January 2009

    Representative James Arciero
    Massachusetts State House, Room 437
    24 Beacon Street
    Boston, MA 02133-1099

    Dear Representative Arciero:

    This letter serves to suggest a cost-saving measure that could be implemented easily and immediately. I would appreciate your consideration of this idea.

    My suggestion is that Massachusetts issue only one (1) license plate to passenger cars. The single license plate would be mounted on the rear of the vehicle. Here are my reasons:

    – You can maintain (or increase) RMV registration fees while reducing the cost of manufacturing license plates by 50%. The savings would be substantial.

    – Precious electricity is consumed to produce the aluminum used in Massachusetts license plates. By issuing one license plate instead of two, you can save 50% of that energy and help create a cleaner, greener planet.

    – Currently, 19 other states (Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia) save money by providing a single license plate for passenger cars.

    – Massachusetts already allows single-license-plate motor vehicles if the owner still has one of the old “green” plates, drives a motorcycle, or has been given permission to use a year-of-manufacture license plate on an antique vehicle.

    – Vehicle aerodynamics would be improved by removing the requirement to mount and display a front license plate, thereby improving fuel economy. (Consider the total number of square feet of front-mounted license plates being propelled through the air face-first at 65 miles per hour at any given time. The energy wasted is significant.)

    Thanks for listening, Jim. I’ve been thinking about this idea for a long time and believe it is a common-sense way to save money without reducing services to Massachusetts citizens.


    1. I’ve been notified by Will that the hearing on this is scheduled for October 19, 10 AM at the statehouse. If anyone is interested in coming with me to testify about this bill, please contact me at

  9. Yes, in January 2009 I sent letters to my state rep, state senator, and the governor to propose a single license plate requirement in Massachusetts. This year, I corresponded with Jeffrey Mullan, Secretary and Chief Executive Officer, Massachusetts Department of Transportation and with Rachel Kaprielian, Registrar of Motor Vehicles on this same topic.

    It appears to me that the Registrar of Motor Vehicles already has the authority to issue only one (1) license plate to passenger cars if she chooses to do so. Chapter 90 Section 6B of the General Laws of Massachusetts says:

    “Notwithstanding any contrary provision of law, the registrar may issue but one number plate, instead of two, for certain motor vehicles or for all motor vehicles. Such plate shall be displayed at the rear of the vehicle for which it is issued, and all consistent provisions of law or of rules and regulations relating to number plates shall apply to such plate.”

  10. So now, it’s really just a procedural issue to get them to do it (?)

    Jeesh…. This should be a no-brainer!

  11. Hi Will – just checking – has a hearing been scheduled?

    1. Nothing yet. We check the hearing lists daily.

      We also just checked to see if the committee might have forward scheduled this and the answer to that is no. They are not going to far ahead in scheduling and this bill has not yet been scheduled.

      1. Clearly, we’re not the only ones ….

        Requires that only one license plate be issued for all motor vehicles instead of the current two plates
        SB324 Bill Detail
        2011-03-09 To Senate Transportation Committee

        Requires one number license plate on the rear of each motor vehicle.
        A00686 Bill Detail
        2011-01-05 To Assembly Transportation Committee

        To amend sections 4503.181, 4503.19, 4503.21, 4503.23, and 4549.10 and to enact section 4503.192 of the Revised Code to require that motor vehicles carry only one license plate, to be displayed on the rear of the vehicle.
        HB107 Bill Detail
        2011-02-16 To House Transportation, Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee

        Amends the Illinois Vehicle Code. Provides that, beginning with the next registration year after the effective date of this amendatory Act in which the Secretary of State distributes newly designed standard registration plates for motor vehicles, the Secretary of State shall issue one registration plate (instead of 2) for newly registered motor vehicles and the registration plate shall be attached to the rear (instead of front and rear) of the motor vehicle.
        HB0188 Bill Detail
        2011-03-17 To House Rules Committee

  12. Monthly inquiry —- say… assuming this does not make it to a vote, I’d like to resubmit for next year and discuss how to get more focus on it.

    I found my testimony from 1990 – at that point the registry estimated they were spending $3m per year on front plates. At the time, it seemed like small change to the legislature and tax revenues were good (this was before the dot-com crash). So…. $3m per year * 21 years, that’s $63m! Hmmm… let’s adjust for inflation (according to the US CPI) and our $3m/year has become $5.2m.. sooo….sum up with an average… that’s about $91m over the past 21 years,

    let’s call it an even $100m. All for nothing. Tossed down the tubes. No value. $100m that could have gone to schools, better roads, helping the homeless, you name it.



    Let’s not let another 20 years go by.

  13. I’ve been notified by Will that the hearing on this is scheduled for October 19, 10 AM at the statehouse. If anyone is interested in coming with me to testify about this bill, please contact me at

      1. Will – just curious, seems this has been introduced three times that I know over the last 20 years or so and never seems to get actioned, does anyone have any justification or reason why it’s a bad idea? There was no testimony given (by anyone) that was not favorable to the bill, and yet the committee, with no explanation decided to take no action. It seems like it’s incumbent upon us, as the governed, to justify ideas, but there’s no quid-pro-quo for the government to explain why a decision is made.

        I think that’s wrong.

        There should be transparency in Government. If this was a contractor or a service organization spending $2m per year of public money in what some deemed a frivolous manner, you know there’d be someone from the Hill talking about more transparency in their dealings (see

        Why can’t we expect the same from our own legislators?

        I’d propose the introduction of a system that required a summary and a justification for both passage or denial of all bills.

        Honestly, I put in a lot of time and effort as have others, only to be told “we know better than you…But we’re not gonna tell you what we know, or how we know it. Just move along now” It’s very frustrating and does not engender trust or confidence that the government is here to serve us – feels more like the other way around.

        More transparency would help.

        Would it be more effort than the current system?


        Good management and informed decisions and personal responsibility take more effort.

        Is our state government willing to put out that much effort? SO far, I’d say the answer is no.

        Will, this is not intended as a personal criticism — In my dealings with you I’ve seen your commitment to transparent, professional practices and policies backed by understanding of the issues. I wish I could say that of the rest of our legislators.



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