California raided Sept. 11 license plate fund
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KFSN) -- After the 2001 terrorist attacks, California lawmakers sought a way to channel the patriotic fervor and use it to help victims' families and law enforcement. But the millions of dollars generated by the specialty memorial license plates emblazoned with the words, "We Will Never Forget" have not gone to help the people it was supposed to.
When Californians like Marina Hernandez pay extra to get a special interest license plate, they expect that money to go to that particular cause.
"I would expect that money to go and fund whatever programs it's stated it to go to," Hernandez said.
There are specialty plates to save California's coastline or Yosemite National Park. Then there's the specialty memorial plate for Sept. 11 -- for $50 the first year and a $40 annual renewal, part of the money is supposed to go toward scholarships for the spouses and the children of the three dozen California residents killed during the terrorist attacks. Most it was to help fund anti-terrorism efforts.
But an Associated Press investigation found former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger raided $2 million from the fund in 2008 and Gov. Jerry Brown borrowed another $1 million last year to balance the state budget.
None of it has been repaid, although the intention is to put the money back eventually.
"The administration had to make some tough choices to not only balance the state budget but fund much needed programs," DMV spokesperson Mike Marando said.
The state actually stopped funding the scholarship program seven years ago, but the plates continue to take in $1.5 million a year.
The state says every child who applied is getting, or will get, their money.
The AP review also calls into question whether money from the Sept. 11 plates is really being spent on direct threats of terrorism, with some funds allocated to food safety and gang activity.
DMV customer Daniel Winans says their money should pay for what it is supposed to pay for.
"Not only to keep my loved ones safe, but as well as someone else's loved ones, families or friends; me just now hearing about this, I'm pretty appalled about the whole thing, it's pretty shocking," Winans said.
Because of the questions raised, Brown on Tuesday ordered an immediate audit or all specialty plates and how that money is being spent.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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