Sun Sets on 'Smiley Face'
New Kentucky License Plate Highlights 'Unbridled Spirit' Brand
- As the sun sets on the "smiley face" license plate, Kentucky's unbridled spirit is racing to the forefront.
Gov. Ernie Fletcher, joined by officials from the Transportation Cabinet and Department of Tourism, unveiled Kentucky's new license plate today at Kentucky Speedway. The announcement officially marks the sunset of the "smiley face" plate.
"This is a phenomenal opportunity to showcase our new state brand," Fletcher said. "We wanted a plate that is clean, striking and promotes Kentucky's Unbridled Spirit. We are very excited about the new license plate and hope this captures the approval of every citizen throughout the commonwealth."
Beginning Aug. 1, 2005, residents who acquire a vehicle or who transfer a vehicle title to Kentucky will receive the new license plate. The "smiley face" license plate will continue to be issued until July 31, 2005, with current supplies being utilized until exhausted to minimize waste.
Effective Jan. 1, 2006, a resident renewing registration will receive the new plate. By the end of 2006, all regular passenger vehicle plates will be the new "Unbridled Spirit" plate.
"By next December there will be more than two million plates visible throughout the commonwealth," said Acting Transportation Cabinet Secretary Bill Nighbert. "The cabinet is putting to rest the 'smiley face' license plate after many requests from constituents. We feel the new plate clearly represents the brand that the citizens of the commonwealth endorse."
There is no additional cost to taxpayers to produce the new license plates. The cost is covered from a replating fund. The plates are for passenger vehicles only. The brand may also be incorporated on the specialty plates in the coming months.
Groups Worried About Drop in Sales With Demise of Smiling Plates
Larry Ball is worried about what the demise of Kentucky's smiling sun license plate will mean to specialty plates that raise money for specific causes.
Ball, executive director of the Kentucky Law Enforcement Memorial fund, which has raised more than $125,000 for scholarships and other services, hopes people will still buy his group's specialty plate.
"But my guess is people will go back to the standard-issue plates," Ball said.
Ball isn't alone. Several groups with specialty plates are wondering what impact a new plate featuring the state slogan "Unbridled Sprit" will have on their sales.
Many drivers, displeased with the "Smiley Face" design, decided to get specialty plates, even though they cost up to $25 more than the standard-issue tags. Kentuckians bought or renewed 303,494 specialty plates last year.
Prices for specialty plates vary; the spay-neuter tags cost $25 for a new plate and $25 for renewal. Standard-issue tags cost $15 for a new plate and $15 for renewal.
The three most popular plate categories are nature, college and personalized.
Kentucky Horse Council plate sales more than quadrupled after the smiling sun first appeared in 2003.
Terri Burch, president of the council, said the specialty plates generated more than $400,000 over the past four years for the non-profit group to promote Kentucky's horse industry.
She said the council hopes to retain its supporters by letting them vote on a new design for their plate in 2006.
Ann Stewart, a staff assistant with the state Agriculture Department, said she did not know how many people switched to the specialty plate because of their aversion to the plates that bear a happy sun face.
"I think people who buy our plate are animal lovers," she said. "We just hope we can keep getting more of them."
Sales of the spay-and-neuter pets plates generate $10 each for the state Agriculture Department, with money going to provide vouchers for low-income pet owners to have their pet spayed or neutered for a $10 co-payment. Stewart said her office has issued 320 vouchers this month.