If 'special cause' plates are a money-losing proposition for the state, then a line needs to be drawn, and stuck to.

Most Minnesotans know it started, with the “Critical Habitat” vehicle license plates that featured the deer. If you bought those specialized plates for your vehicle, each year when you purchased new tabs you made a contribution to the Department of Natural Resources, which spent the money on various outdoors initiatives throughout the state.

    The Critical Habitat plates featuring an image of loons followed and, in recent years, so have similar plates featuring the state flower, a fishing scene, a black-capped chickadee, and even an updated deer scene. They’re all sharp-looking license plates, indeed.

    There are also “special cause” plates that encourage everyone to “Support our Troops.”

    Oh, and, of course, you’re all aware of the special plates for University of Minnesota, Crookston alumni, too, right? Actually, no, you probably didn’t know about that one, because chances are you’re not one of the four people in Minnesota who have purchased a UMC alumni license plate since it was first issued in 1991.

    Which should prove that when it comes to special cause license plates in Minnesota, there is such a thing as having too much of a good thing.

    That’s the topic in this space today because, according to a news story last week, increased requests for various special cause license plates in Minnesota have lawmakers wondering where to draw the line.

    Last week alone, the House Transportation Committee heard requests for plates raising breast cancer awareness and research dollars – Think they’ll be pink? – recognizing retired firefighters, promoting organ donation and helping the American Red Cross raise disaster relief dollars.

    All good causes, to be sure, but it sort of makes you long for the day when we all featured the standard issue Minnesota license plate with a basic image of a forest and some water and the boast of living in a state with 10,000 lakes.

    Hey, we get it: In today’s world, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or whatever, it’s all about making sure everyone knows exactly what you think about everything. Everyone everywhere has to know everything you’re passionate about. All these special cause license plates? They’re basically bumper stickers that happen to raise money.

    But they cost money to produce as well, and that’s why lawmakers are wondering if it’s time to make some rules about what plates get green-lighted and what ones don’t, and then actually stick to the rules and not grant waivers to new requests simply because too many lawmakers have a soft spot for good causes.

    License plates weren’t meant to fulfill this wide-ranging function, were they? No, they weren’t, especially if it’s a money-losing proposition for the state.