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Spinning Our Wheels

From now on, a new Arizona driver’s license will carry a 2.9 percent APR, for the first 90 days.

That’s right. State government will use a combination driver’s license-credit card to help generate desperately-needed revenues. In addition, the backs of the licenses will be sold as advertising space to such firms as Chevron, Blimpie and Discount Tire.

And wait until I tell you about our new license plates.

Arizona is facing a budget deficit of $1 billion, caused in part by an ill-advised scheme two years ago. The Legislature offered very generous tax credits to people who bought automobiles that would run on alternate fuels.

Showing even less foresight than those who threw California’s energy users to the wolves, Arizona lawmakers underestimated how many buyers would rush to buy vehicles at something like half price, once the tax credits were figured in.

Arizona was nearly bankrupt. A depressed economy and September 11 haven’t helped. Two hundred million dollars here, two hundred million dollars there, pretty soon you’re talking real money.

A proposal to sell Tucson back to Mexico would have solved the problem quickly. That was proposed by legislators from Mesa, who would like their city to become the second largest city in Arizona. But University of Arizona supporters quickly quashed that idea.

Readers who live in Arizona will recognize that the offical state liar is hard-pressed to create silly stuff faster than the Legislature can. This is the state that in 1995 passed a “veggie hate crimes bill.”

That civil law allows produce growers to collect quadruple damages from people who say bad things about their products. If you defame our rutabaga, or libel our lettuce, it could cause marketing problems for the farmers. Now they are protected by Arizona law. I’m not making this up.

At this very moment, the Legislature is considering a proposal to let horse and dog racing tracks install slot machines, with 30 percent of the proceeds from the slots going to the state. It is hoped that the slots will yield $200 million in state revenues. I’m not making that up, either.

Are you or your loved ones going to need an Arizona marriage license? I bought one two years ago for $50. Worth every penny of it, too, dear.

Next year, a marriage license will still cost $50. But it also will be “sponsored” by retailers, who will pay big bucks to the state to get your name on their gift registry.

Certified copy of your birth certificate? Sponsored by Mutual of Omaha. Death certificate? The Department of Revenue is still looking for sponsors for that one.

Like other states, Arizona has been selling specialty and vanity license plates for years. They cost more than regular plates. You can buy plates that promote your alma mater, and some that reflect social causes.

This year, you can buy the popular new “snowbird” plates for an extra $100. These actually look like the plates from Montana, Idaho, Vermont, and so on. They were designed for Arizonans who sorely miss the snowbirds when they leave in the spring. So far, two sets have been ordered.

I asked a deputy sheriff, Dan Lockjaw, if the plates wouldn’t be confusing to police.

“Naw,” Lockjaw said. “Once we get ’em on our radar, it won’t make no difference.”

You can also buy license plates that carry the logo of your favorite Indian gaming casino. These will cost $200 extra.

Under the pending legislation, the casinos also will share the slot machine take with the state. Some genius figured Arizona residents might as well give the money directly to the state, rather than running it through the casinos. I predict that these plates will not be popular.

Just this week, someone realized that one of Arizona’s larget assets is its supply of orange road construction signs. They’re everywhere. Now there’s a proposal afoot to sell advertising space on the signs to AAA, towing companies, and the tourism promoters in surrounding states.

This year Arizona adopted a law doubling the fine for a traffic ticket in a construction zone. One strong law-and-order legislator, looking at the state’s monstrous deficit, proposed hiding the warning signs and tripling the fines.

Fortunately, that proposal died in committee.

Last 5 posts by Jim Cook

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