California legislators who have proposed selling digital ads on car license plates to help close the state budget gap vow that, if they ever go ahead with the plan, they will take steps to ensure the "integrity" of the venture. Unfortunately, that would be impossible. In order to ensure an idea's integrity, it has to have integrity in the first place.
It's true that the economy is dog-paddling, the state budget deficit is at $19 billion and counting, and no one is eager to pay extra taxes. Still, there are revenue-raising schemes so low-brow that no state with a shred of self-respect would even consider them.
There went the first shred.
As The Times has reported, the Assembly Transportation Committee unanimously approved a bill by Sen. Curren Price Jr. (D-Inglewood) directing various agencies to conduct feasibility studies on the electronic digital license plates, which would flash advertising as well as plate numbers. The bill, SB 1453 previously passed the Senate.
Those who have retained some semblance of common sense have been busily shooting holes in the concept: The ads would make the roads more dangerous by distracting drivers, they say. The computer could be hacked, allowing millions of cars nationwide to flash porn. Connected to a central wireless system, the license plates could theoretically allow the government to track drivers' moves or even tax them on how much they drive. The plates could drain a car's battery; a rear-end collision would probably destroy the plate, leaving no way to track the license number. Courts have ruled that the state cannot discriminate among advertisers, so theoretically the Ku Klux Klan could market itself along with anyone else — though under the plan, drivers could exercise some discretion over which ads their plates would display.