California's whale-tail license plate. (California Coastal Commission )
SACRAMENTO -- California motorists can get specialized license plates with pictures of whales, firefighters and palm trees to benefit certain state programs, but the state auditor said Thursday the state has failed to collect up to $22 million owed for the plates.
In addition, state Auditor Elaine Howle found that state agencies that receive money from the special plates have not properly handled the cash.
"This report concludes that the State has not collected all revenue due from special plates and has spent some of the special plate revenue on expenditures that were unallowable or unsupported,” Howle wrote to Gov. Jerry Brown.
Her office estimated the California Department of Motor Vehicles did not collect $12 million in revenue it was required charge to those who want to hold on to special plates after they become inactive during the two fiscal years ending June 30, 2012.
The DMV also appears to have undercharged some special plate owners by a total of nearly $10.2 million. Auditors also found that the California Emergency Management Agency spent anti-terrorism fund money “in a manner inconsistent with the purposes state law establishes," exceeding the 5% administrative cap in some years, for instance.
The emergency agency also spent $98,000 from the antiterrorism fund to pay for purchasing and moving furniture and for travel expenses related to training courses about how to apply for federal grants, "neither of which are directly related to fighting terrorism as state law requires."
The audit concluded that the California Department of Food and Agriculture could not provide adequate support for $896,000 in expenses.
The DMV will review its practices in light of the audit, said Armando Botello, an agency spokesman.
“DMV has generally not continued collecting fees from people who kept a personalized plate after they no longer have it on a car,” Botello said. “DMV will do an analysis to determine whether it makes financial sense to change this practice. As for the other fees, DMV has developed plans to take corrective action.”
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