RINGGOLD, Ga. -- The budget in Georgia has become so tight, several area counties are handing out temporary cardboard license plates until the state can afford to print more metal plates, local officials said.

"We've gone from having an inventory that would last six months or a year to not even having enough to make it through the day," Catoosa County Tax Commissioner Sandra Self said of the tags. "Someone should have seen this coming."

Around noon Monday, Catoosa County had only three regular passenger car plates left and two dozen empty cubbies where specialty plates normally go. Whitfield County, which handles about 400 tag or decal requests each day, ran out of tags last week and then ran out of the cardboard temporary tags.

"What would you think if you drove to a Krystal and ordered three Krystal burgers and a coke and they said they don't have any?" Whitfield Tax Commissioner Danny Sane said. "That's what (applicants) think of us."

Catoosa County got a shipment of tags Monday afternoon, which should keep them supplied through the end of the week, Ms. Self said. Now the challenge is the annual renewal decals, which likely will run out this afternoon, she said.

Local tax commissioners say they were told the state simply didn't have the money to produce more tags.

Reg Lansberry, a member of the tax law and policy section of the Georgia Department of Revenue, said it is possible that some counties were out of some specialty plates,

"Not all 159 counties have ever had on hand every single specialty plate," he said.

Reached after business hours Monday, Mr. Lansberry said it's possible some counties might be out of regular-issue plates and he would investigate when staff returned to work today. He said he also would investigate when and if printing had stopped.

The important thing, he said, is that anyone who needs a plate or decal should be able to get a temporary permit.

"No one applying for their registration renewal or a plate would ever leave that office without something legal in their hand," he said.

Dade County Tax Commissioner Jane Moreland said she was told it would be the new fiscal year, which begins July 1, before the state could fully restock local offices.

Mr. Sane said it's a sign that something is obviously wrong at the state level.

"We give the state $19 for something they pay 50 cents for and they run out?" he asked. "Hello?"

Walker County Tax Commissioner Carolyn Walker agreed.

"If you run a grocery store and you don't restock when you sell one, that doesn't make sense," she said.

In counties that border other states, the temporary tags are especially troubling, she said.

Ms. Walker said at least one Georgia resident had been pulled over in either Alabama or Tennessee for having the temporary tag taped in his rear window, because she had been asked to write a letter explaining the situation to a judge to help the resident get out of a ticket.

Bradley County, Tenn., Sheriff Tim Gobble said tags must have the owner's name, VIN and expiration date, but it shouldn't be a problem.

"We'll certainly work with Georgia to not harass Georgia drivers," the sheriff said. "I don't know that it would really matter if it was cardboard or laminated or whatever."

For the most part, drivers reluctantly accept the temporary tags, Ms. Moreland said.

"They don't understand, but we try to explain it to them that it's not us," she said. Dade County was down to a three-hour supply of decals for the tags at one point last week and has been out of handicap, antique and other specialty tags for days, she said.

Ms. Walker said temporary handicap tags are a particular problem.

Drivers can either stick the card where the plate normally goes and see how it fares in the weather or climb through the car to stick it on the rear window, she said.

"It's tough for anyone in good health to do that," Ms. Walker said.

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Full version - May 18, 2010