Specialty license plate sales up 10% in Mississippi as blue guitars fade to brown

Those blue guitar license plates are disappearing across Mississippi and any car or truck that still wears one come in January will be an easy target for a traffic ticket.

“The reissue started in January 2019 and will be completed in December,” said Kaitlin O’Dougherty, spokeswoman for Mississippi Department of Revenue.

That means by the end of the year, “Lucille” will be retired. The blue and white plate, honoring Mississippi musician B.B. King and his guitar Lucille, was issued in October 2012. It stayed around for six years instead of the usual five when the Legislature didn’t provide the money to renew them sooner.

The problem is many people in the state aren’t crazy about the “dirty” brown color and the design of the new plate.

There’s a fix for that — actually more than 225 options — and nearly one in four of Mississippi’s 2.9 million vehicles now sports a specialty plate or a vanity plate with a personalized message.

In fiscal year 2018, the state issued 606,000 specialty, military, university or personalized plates. Sales of specialty plates are up 10% from January through August compared to the same time last year year, O’Dougherty said.

Part of that increase could be from people who don’t like the standard license plate. Mississippi also issued 13 new specialty plates this year, she said, which may have bumped up the demand.

Several of those new plates are have Coast connections. They are:

Coastal Conservation — Promotes conservation for dolphins and sea turtles

East Central Attendance Center

George County School District

St. Patrick High School

Stennis Flag — Promotes “History, Hope and Hospitality”

It can be lucrative to have a specialty plate in Mississippi. The Gulfport School District received $8,400 in the last fiscal year from sales of license plates, the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies raised $38,400, and Infinity Science Center received $194,700 through the sales of New Orleans Saints plates.

The campaign is on for Mississippi Aquarium to have its own license plate even before the attraction opens in April. The Department of Revenue requires 300 tags be pre-sold before the first plate is manufactured. Those who want an aquarium plate can fill out an application now and receive it when 300 are pre-sold. The specialty tag fee is an additional $33 on top of the usual fees and ad valorem taxes.

The Department of Revenue website answers questions about when and where to get new plates.

Drivers who don’t renew their tags on time have a grace period of 16 days after it expires, then are charged 5% for the next 15 days. Each month the tag is overdue beyond the first month, an additional 5% is charged, up to a 25% penalty.

Drivers who get pulled over for expired tags may be given a warning and a few days to renew, or they can be fined $250, depending on the municipality, in addition to the cost of the new tags.

That will give drivers the blues.

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Mary Perez is the business and casino reporter for the Sun Herald and also writes about Biloxi, jobs and the new restaurants and development coming to the Coast. She is a fourth-generation journalist.