CT License Plates Are Fundraising "Vehicle" for Scores of State's Nonproits

In a state with just over 3.5 million people, there are currently 3 million license plates on vehicles registered here.  That includes every type of vehicle – commercial, combination, passenger, motorcycle and camper. 

State law allows the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue “special background plates” on behalf of non-profit organizations. There are more that 70,000 on the roads today, and 65 specialty designs available, supporting a wide range of nonprofit causes.

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The top five most popular among them:  Long Island Sound (36,117); Veteran (19,281); Animal Population (4,455); United We Stand (3,007) and Keep Kids Safe (1,559).

The organization seeking to establish a specialty plate must be non-profit, must submit a copy of the organization's charter or by-laws, provide a letter of good standing from the State of Connecticut Secretary of State’s Office and supply any Internal Revenue Service ruling on their non-profit tax exemption status. DMV has final approval on all the plate and logo designs.

When a Long Island Sound plate – by far the most popular - is purchased, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles website, a portion of the fee goes into the Long Island Sound Fund. The Department of Environmental Protection distributes the money to schools, municipalities, environmental groups, and other non-profit organizations, which apply for grants for projects to benefit Long Island Sound.

The fee for a new, off-the-shelf, license plate is $50.  To remake a current marker plate with the specialty design is $70.  New vanity plates with the design included cost $139.   Costs can vary for specialty plates.

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Some special plates are established by act of the Connecticut legislature.  The latest, as result of a law passed in 2018, is the “Save Our Lakes” plate, which will go into distribution in January of 2020. It was approved without opposition in the House and Senate.  The aim of the legislation authorizing the new specialty plate was “to enhance public awareness of the state's effort to preserve and protect the state's lakes and ponds from aquatic invasive species and cyanobacteria blooms.”

The additional donation of $15 at the time of registration renewal for any motor vehicle bearing a Save Our Lakes commemorative number plate is to be divided,  with $5 dedicated to the administrative costs of the Department and $10 be deposited in the Connecticut Lakes and Ponds Preservation account. 

That account will permit the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to allocate funds for (1) restoration and rehabilitation of lakes and ponds in the state; (2) programs of DEEP for the eradication of aquatic invasive species and cyanobacteria blooms; (3) education and public outreach programs to enhance the public's understanding of the need to protect and preserve the state's lakes and ponds; (4) allocation of grants to state and municipal agencies and not-for-profit organizations to conduct research and to provide public education and public awareness to enhance understanding and management of the natural resources of the state's lakes and ponds.

Typically, there need to be 400 applications for a specialty plate, along with the required fee, prior to the manufacturing of the special background plates.  That was true of the most recent, the plate featuring the logo of the former Hartford Whalers, with a portion of proceeds benefitting Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.  There have been 487 Whalers plates issued as of this month, since it became available last year.

Rounding out the top 10 specialty plates on Connecticut vehicles:  Conserve Wildlife Eagle (1,447); Police Memorial (1,177); Greenways (1,110); University of Connecticut (1,028) and Special Olympics (884).

The logo production and cost incurred are the responsibility of the organization. The logo prototype design, preferred in PDF format, must be submitted to the DMV, and can be no larger than 2 inches wide and 3.5 inches high.

Among the other specialty plates available are those dedicated to supporting Amateur Radio, Amistad, Garden Clubs, Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, Firefighters of Connecticut, First Company Governor’s Foot Guard, Greenways, Korean War Veterans Association, Knights of Columbus, New England Air Museum, Red Sox Foundation, P.T. Barum Foundation, and the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation.

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Higher education institutions include Central Connecticut State University, University of Hartford, University of New Haven, and University of Connecticut and the Penn State Alumni Association.  The municipalities of Meriden (Crossroads of CT), Norwich (Rose of New England), and Stafford (Nation’s First Resort) also have specialty marker plates.