News 12 Special Assignment: Who's profiting from college plates?

Georgia license plate fees
News 12 investigates where the fees from license plates go in Georgia. (WRDW-TV / Aug. 8, 2012)

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- You've no doubt seen them on the roads. Tens of thousands of Georgia drivers have a specialty plate in support of their favorite college or university.

The plates cost extra at the tag office and every year when drivers renew them, but you might be surprised to know where that extra money goes ... or more appropriately, where it doesn't go.

You could call Debbie Harrison's car a moving billboard.

"I have a tag in the front, a tag on the back also. That lets everyone know I'm a Bulldog fan," she said.

The tag on the back, however, cost a lot more than the one on the front of Harrison's car. That's because she pays the state of Georgia extra money to have a University of Georgia specialty plate.

Instead of paying $20 for a regular state plate, drivers like Harrison fork over $80. The renewal fee is also higher. It's $55 as opposed to just $20.

Drivers in Georgia have 30 college and university plates to choose from, including Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern, Augusta State and maybe soon Georgia Regents. Right now, the Georgia Department of Revenue says there are more than 88,000 school plates are on the road.

That means millions for the state's general fund.

No, that's not a typo. The millions go to the State Treasurer's Office. Not a dime goes to the college or university.

Across the river, it's a much different story in South Carolina. Drivers who support a college or university with a specialty plate are really supporting their college or university when it comes to money.

According to the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, specialty plates for colleges and universities are $70 on top of the normal registration fee. That's similar to the costs drivers pay in Georgia, but here's the difference: $40 goes to the sponsoring school's scholarship fund. So, a University of South Carolina plate or a Clemson University plate helps students get a college education.

Meanwhile, plates like Harrison's in Georgia do not.

That was news to her.

"Who checks to see? I think I'm supporting my school, so the money's going there. So I was surprised when you told me it wasn't," she said.

Here's something else that's surprising. Money from the Georgia Tech plate in Georgia goes to the Georgia general fund. Money for the Georgia Tech plate in South Carolina goes to benefit a scholarship fund of South Carolina students who attend Georgia Tech.

That's not all we found. Click here for a plate comparison between the two states.

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