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Georgia missing money from car tags, auditors say

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ATLANTA -- Motorists who put so-called vanity plates on their cars could help fill a little of the state's budget shortfall if Georgia adopted "a business-oriented approach" to their sale, according to state auditors.
The Department of Audits & Accounts found little similarity in how the Department of Revenue charges for the 109 varieties of tags, from those supporting individual colleges to causes like breast cancer. As a result, initial costs to drivers from some tags range from zero to $70, and renewals also run from free up to $40.
If drivers were charged the same for any tag purchased, an extra $24 million would flow into the state's beleaguered budget. Even if half the drivers said the price was too high and opted for the standard tags, the state would pick up $11.7 million, according to the auditors' report.
Expanding the selection to the types of tags that are big sellers in other states could net another $7.5 million annually, the report said.
About one in six vehicles has an optional tag. Most are for special causes. The biggest seller, one with a bobwhite quail, provided $419,000 last year for the state's wildlife management program. The biggest fund raiser, snagged $1 million for the Indigent Care Trust Fund with the extra money collected on the sale of the breast-cancer awareness tag.
The auditors recommend a targeted campaign to beef up sales. For example, sharing some of the revenue with the colleges depicted on the tag could prompt the schools to hustle up more business. After all, the state sells fewer than two plates for every student currently enrolled, and just .7 plates for every Georgia Tech student.
"Our review identified the potential for increasing revenues from special license place sales by adopting a business-oriented approach to the sale of special license plates," the auditors wrote.
The Department of Revenue told the auditors laws would have to be changed to standardize the fees and that it would need more funding to add staff to marketing.
Other state agencies, though, like the idea if it would put more money into their programs.
The Department of Natural Resources was especially eager.
"Given the important of special license plate revenue to critical programs of the Wildlife Resources Division, we are very interested in recommendations to enhance the revenue from these special license plates," it told auditors.


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