Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration is eager to slap its “Nothing Compares” state branding logo on automobile license plates, but it’s not clear whether an 11th hour proposal will meet the legislature’s requirements for new specialty plates that can be approved this year.
Legislators erected bureaucratic obstacles for new plate proposals two years ago. They wanted to slow the flood of requests from civic groups, charities and other sponsors who didn’t always have enough supporters ready to pay an extra $10 to $50 a year for these optional plates.
According to the 2014 law, the General Assembly this year cannot consider a specialty license plate proposal that did not meet a Feb. 15 deadline for gathering paid applications in advance, from hundreds of individual drivers.
The N.C. Commerce Department submitted its proposal for a plate with a green-to-blue background, the “Nothing Compares” slogan and the logo: a stylized “NC” with a pine tree. Because it’s a full-color design, state law says the applicant must collect 500 paid applications from drivers before filing its Feb. 15 request with the state Division of Motor Vehicles.
The Commerce application appears to have fallen far short of this requirement.
“At this time, we have received 125 ‘paid applications’ in accordance with (the 2014 law),” A. John Hoomani, general counsel for the Commerce Department, said Monday in a letter attached to the DMV license plate proposal.
He added that hundreds more have expressed interest in getting a “Nothing Compares” plate.
“Therefore, we expect to exceed the minimum number of 500 paid applications,” Hoomani wrote. Citing a proposed fee of $15 – Commerce would get $5 a year to help fuel its “Nothing Compares” branding campaign – the application included a $7,500 check to cover the expected payment from 500 people.
But Commerce officials waited until Feb. 3 – less than two weeks before the DMV application deadline – to announce their license plate proposal and invite North Carolinians to participate.
Commerce spokeswoman Kim Genardo says more than 800 people quickly expressed interest. WRAL-TV reported Thursday that most of them are state government employees.
Genardo said there wasn’t much time to collect all those individual checks and applications in a process Hoomani called “cumbersome and ongoing.” But she expressed confidence that the department eventually will surpass the required minimum.
Up to lawmakers
“We are just thrilled” with the response, Genardo said. “I believe we have effectively made the deadline. ... As far as meeting the statutory requirements and getting the plate approved, that is up to lawmakers.”
In the 2014 law, legislators directed DMV officials to report by March 15 on the specialty plate applications they received in February, and to indicate “whether the applicant met the requirements” of the law.
But officials with DMV – like Commerce, an agency overseen by McCrory – refused Thursday to say whether the 125 paid applicants meets the legislature’s requirement of 500.
“We’re not judging whether they met the requirements,” DMV spokeswoman Marge Howell said. “That’s really something for the legislators to look at.”
Sherry P. Lee, DMV’s special license plates manager, said her report to the legislature would include the Commerce Department’s information.
“We actually don’t know how many applications they’ve actually taken, other than by that cover letter,” Lee said. “Based on that cover letter, that’s what I’m going to put in there.”
Zeta Phi Beta, a national sorority with about 1,000 North Carolina members, labored for two years to comply with the law. That’s how long it took the group to collect 300 applications with checks for $20 apiece.
DMV received Zeta Phi Beta’s application, with a $600 check, in advance of Monday’s deadline. For everyone who buys the proposed license plate – plain white and adorned with the sorority’s blue logo – Zeta Phi Beta would receive $10 each year to be used for college scholarships. DMV would keep the other $10.
Zeta Phi Beta won initial legislative approval in 2003. But DMV did not start making the proposed license plate, because the sorority did not collect enough applications. The legislature changed its approval process in 2014, and Zeta Phi Beta tried again. Two years later, the group has generated 325 paid applications.
“It will be for our scholarship fund,” said Bettye Murchison of Raleigh, a national board member and former state director for Zeta Phi Beta. “We are hoping this will be a good way for us to support students at the university level.”