The Senate gave preliminary approval on Thursday to a bill that creates a special license plate depicting a historical emblem that is recently enjoying another reintroduction as a Tea Party symbol — the Gadsden flag, which contains the words “Don’t tread on me.”
The bill also creates a five-member “Arizona Tea Party Committee” to administer revenues from the sale of the license plate. The Senate President and the House Speaker will each appoint members to the committee, whose task is to hand out grants to entities that “use monies to promote tea party governing principles.”
The bill is among a slew of proposals that create new special license plates for the benefit of nonprofit groups. These new plates almost always get the Legislature’s approval.
But the proposed “Don’t tread on me” plate ran into a bit of trouble after its sponsor tried to push an amendment to use highway funds as start-up money.
Current law requires a group — usually a charitable or cause-oriented organization — that is requesting the new plate to pay for the cost of creating it, which is $32,000.
However, Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, offered an amendment saying the initial cost to create the plate would come from the State Highway Fund. Under his amendment, the money would be paid back, interest-free, using revenues from the plate’s sale.
Some Democrats and Republicans alike balked at the amendment.
Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, said the ideals of the Tea Party movement include the belief that no one is special and that people should pay their way.
But the amendment makes people who get the license plate a “moocher,” Antenori said, emphasizing that he very much supports the creation of the license plate — but not the way it’s being funded under the amendment.
Democrats, meanwhile, argued that the legislation is a special carve-out for groups espousing one political viewpoint.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, also argued that the amendment violates the “gift clause,” the constitutional provision that prohibits the state or any of its political subdivisions from loaning its credit or making any donation or grant to private entities and individuals.
But Senate President Russell Pearce said it’s not the first time that the Legislature has allowed the use of public money to pay for the start-up cost of creating a license plate. Pearce said the state did it for the “Families of Fallen Officers” license plate.
Rhetorically, Pearce also said he’s amazed why people are “offended” now that it’s about creating a license plate depicting the Gadsden flag.
The Senate ultimately adopted other provisions of Shooter’s amendment, but deleted the portion about using highway funds as start-up money.