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Editorial: Sali sees new Idaho plate funds as civics aid

There’s an old one-line joke: “In God we trust; all others pay cash.”

If legislators bite on one of the most self-serving proposals entertained in the Capitol of late, the Idaho variant could soon be “In God we trust; now pay Bill Sali.”

The former Idaho lawmaker and one-term Republican congressman has suggested Idaho offer license plates imprinted with “In God We Trust.” Several other states already offer such plates and, of course, every note of U.S. currency makes the same proclamation.

And currency is very much on the mind of Sali, who never saw a government expenditure he couldn’t dislike.

He, with his wife and nephew, have established an American Heritage Foundation that would take a fat cut off of every fee paid to purchase or renew one of the new plates. To wit: all but $13 out of the $35 for the plate, and the $25 for renewal.

Idaho’s state highway account would get the $13.

Mind you, the foundation is barely two weeks old, having been registered Jan. 25.

What would this new entity do with the money?

Educate Idahoans about the history and founding principles of the United States of America. Perhaps because of an underfunded school system, students are apparently not getting those fundamental lessons about our republic.

Sali says American Heritage might try to address that problem, possibly by distributing free copies of the U.S. Constitution, a document that will be a few keystrokes away on any of the Web-connected computers soon to be in the hands of every Idaho student. Or, noted one House Transportation Committee member, freely available from the Secretary of State.

So too, are In God We Trust license plates freely available, if purchased in states like Indiana and Kentucky. Oklahoma charges $18, $16.50 for renewal. They’re quite good looking. States like Florida and Arkansas set aside a portion of the fees for admirable efforts like home-delivered meals for seniors.

It’s noteworthy that the committee voted to accept Sali’s proposal shortly after rejecting SB 1243, which passed the Senate on a vote of 31-2. That measure, sponsored by Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene, would have cut off the sale of new plates unless the fees would support the interests of state or local government.

Idaho already offers 30 specialty plates, which generate about $1.6 million. Sali estimates sales of the In God We Trust plates could reach 5,000, which would give his foundation admirable cash flow.

Also noteworthy, Sali’s proposal was moved for consideration by Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, who had to surrender his vice chairmanship of the Transportation Committee because of questions raised about his ethics.

Sali himself may be angling for an open seat in the Legislature in the May primary.

If he gets in, maybe he can agitate for improved civics instruction.

For the foundation, In God We Trust sounds more like a collection plate than a license plate. Don’t go down that road.

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