This morning, Senator Dick Black (R-Loudoun) announced on Facebook that he has received new license plates for his vehicle. Each member of the General Assembly is assigned a plate so that their vehicles can be identified easily. If you see a car on the road that bears the tag “22 Senator”, then you have likely found Senator Black (or someone who has absconded with his property).
However, given that Senator Black represents the 13th senate district of Virginia, it might seem curious that he bears the number 22 instead of 13. Bizarrely, this numbering system has nothing to do with district number and instead is based upon seniority. Thus, of the 40 members of Virginia’s State Senate, 21 have served longer than Senator Black.
However, should a senator or a delegate resign his or her office, die, or lose an election, then new license plates will need to be issued to every elected official with less time served than the outgoing member in order to properly reflect this update in seniority. Depending on how long he or she has been in office, this change could result in a lot of new plates, especially in a large group, like in the hundred member Virginia House of Delegates.
On the Republican primary day in 2015, while volunteering at the polls, I spoke to Delegate Mark Berg (R-Winchester) about this issue. I observed that although he represented the 29th House of Delegates district, his license plate number was not “29 Delegate”. He agreed that the numbering scheme didn’t make much sense and offered to sponsor a bill in the 2016 General Assembly session so that the legislators’ plate numbers matched their respective district number. Unfortunately, the bill didn’t materialize as Delegate Berg was defeated in the GOP primary.
Sure, there are certainly more important issues than license plate numbers. But, do we really want to “reward” legislators to try and stay in office as long as possible in order to gain a coveted low number? We don’t renumber legislative districts every year or two when a new delegate or senator acquires office so why in the world should we craft and re-craft so many license plates based upon something the average Virginian would think is so trivial, like seniority? It may not be the biggest cost savings technique, but if we assigned license plates based upon legislative districts I’m certain we wouldn’t print as many. Of course redistricting happens too, but it typically comes up once every ten years as a result of the census, not nearly as frequently as either elections to the House (every 2 years) or Senate (every 4 years).
So, isn’t it better to distribute license plates based upon district numbers instead of seniority? I’m pretty sure that the state government could save at least a few tax dollars by not replacing a multitude of perfectly good plates every two or four years.