ANNAPOLIS – A new bill would allow University of Maryland fans to show their school spirit and provide much needed scholarship money for students.
Terrapin supporters could purchase a license plate at the Motor Vehicle Administration emblazoned with Maryland’s mascot – Testudo the turtle. Proceeds would go toward scholarships.
“The idea is to make it the coolest tag out there,” said Sen. John Giannetti Jr., D-Anne Arundel.
The tags would cost an extra $20 for registration at the MVA, with half going into the scholarship fund. Renewing the tag every two years would cost an extra $10 and generate another $5 for scholarships.
“I imagine it will raise several million dollars,” Giannetti said.
The tags are different from organizational tags, which are common among sororities, fraternities, recreational and other organizations. Organizational tags look like regular Maryland plates, but typically contain the organization’s emblem.
Special interest tags are colorful pictorial background plates with the profits devoted to a state-designated project. Maryland sells two special interest tags — for Chesapeake Bay clean up and agricultural education.
Last year, the bill failed to pass the House Environmental Matters Committee, after panel members said they feared the new plate would diminish the proceeds from the other special interest tags.
Lawmakers said they were also overwhelmed with other special interest proposals, such as the African American History and Culture tag, a Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom tag and a Mountain Maryland tag to represent counties like Alleghany and Garrett Counties.
“When will it stop?” said Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore.
The Chesapeake Bay tag sponsors the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the farmland tag goes toward the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation.
Senate President Thomas V. Michael Miller Jr., D-Calvert, who sports a 2002 University of Maryland National Collegiate Athletic Association ring, is supporting the “Fear the Turtle” tag bill. He graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1967.
“We need both. We need money for the Chesapeake Bay and we need money for higher education,” Miller said.
Legislation for the Chesapeake Bay Trust bill was passed in 1990. The Chesapeake Bay Trust has sold 1 million license plate tags and made more than $11 million through December 2003.
The trust declined to comment on whether it would lose money if the University of Maryland tag is sold.
Another member of the Environmental Matters Committee does not see a problem with the bill.
“The University of Maryland is having very serious financial problems,” said Delegate Barbara Frush, D-Prince George’s.
She noted that cuts in funding forced the university to raise tuition nearly 30 percent over the last couple of years. This year, Gov. Robert Ehrlich boosted higher education spending by 5.7 percent.
“The governor throws a little money over there this year and it’s like ‘Whoopee do’,” said Frush.
Still, McIntosh doesn’t want to give money to one organization and leave out other organizations.
“What happens when Johns Hopkins wants a tag next year?” McIntosh asked.
McIntosh suggested eliminating General Assembly scholarships to give the money to the university.
“It’s upwards of $10 million,” said McIntosh.
She also suggested the school get an organizational tag if students wanted to display their school spirit.
“If they want to show school spirit, they don’t need a bill,” said McIntosh.
Frush said that the University of Maryland deserved the tag after the basketball team became the 2002 NCAA champions and the school has more students than any other Maryland university.
“I think the fact is the Terps have earned it,” Frush said.
Delegate Tony Fulton, D-Baltimore, a University of Maryland alumnus and Environmental Matters Committee member, agrees with Frush.
“I would be the first in line,” he said, “to trade in my House of Delegates plate for a University of Maryland plate.”