ANNAPOLIS – A new commemorative license plate would provide a tax-free revenue stream for scholarships to terror victims without making a tight budget year worse, says the bill’s sponsor.
The attacks of Sept. 11 claimed 59 Maryland lives, and lawmakers already have moved to make victims’ children and spouses eligible for special state scholarships.
The license plate proposal answers the question of how to fund the scholarships in a year where the governor was forced to balance a $1 billion deficit by tapping reserve funds and canceling a planned 2 percent reduction to state income taxes.
“The bill provides a helpful revenue stream without asking taxpayers to pay for it,” said Delegate John Leopold, R-Anne Arundel, the bill’s sponsor.
It also assuages concerns about extending eligibility to a pre- existing scholarship without increasing funding, Leopold said.
The program in question, the Edward T. Conroy Memorial Scholarship, provides educational assistance to children of prisoners of war, armed service members killed or disabled during combat and children and spouses of firefighters and police officers killed or disabled in the line of duty.
Both the House and Senate voted this session to extend the program to the families of Sept. 11 victims and any subsequent terrorist attacks. The governor, one of the measure’s original sponsors, plans to ratify the decision, said spokeswoman Raquel Guillory.
The funding proposal mirrors the concept behind the Treasure the Chesapeake license plates. A percentage of the decorative plate purchases go to the Chesapeake Bay Trust, which promotes protection of the bay.
The trust received $584,633 from sales during fiscal year 2001.
Fiscal analysts predict the Sept. 11 commemorative plates could generate as much as $562,500 in 2003 for the scholarship if 75,000 plates were sold.
In addition to the revenue benefits for the program, crisis counselors said the plates would emotionally benefit affected families.
“Each time a member of a victim’s family sees one of the commemorative tags displayed on a vehicle registered in this state, it will serve not only as a concrete show of support but also as a reminder to these families that they are not alone in remembering their loved ones who were killed on that September day,” said Mark Maggio of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation.
No one opposed the bill at its hearing in the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee, but some have recommended creating a separate scholarship for the victims.