New Mexico panel backs special chile pepper license plate

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With red and green chile saturating nearly every facet of life in New Mexico, a legislative panel on Thursday put its support behind a measure that calls for the creation of a special license plate adorned with the hot peppers.

The House Transportation and Public Works Committee gave a favorable recommendation to the legislation sponsored by Republican Rep. Cathrynn Brown of Carlsbad.

Brown told fellow lawmakers that most New Mexicans can’t go a day without enjoying chile and a new license plate would help to recognize the popular peppers and their connection to New Mexico’s culture and history.

“Chile is an iconic product of New Mexico,” she said. “If you can take a Seattle born-and-bred girl like me and turn her into a chile-holic, that says something about the chile I think.”

Chile has been a staple of New Mexico cuisine for centuries, and the Hatch region has become world famous for its flavorful hot peppers. Chile is also the state vegetable and the basis of the official state question, “red or green?”

Researchers have said New Mexico’s soil and weather combine to give peppers grown in the state a unique flavor and character, and the industry typically infuses hundreds of millions of dollars into the state’s economy and employs thousands of workers.

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Under the proposed legislation, vehicle owners would pay an annual $35 fee for the chile pepper plate. Some of the revenue would go toward the plate’s manufacturing costs while most would be used for educational programs at the state Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces.

Museum director Mark Santiago said an existing farm and ranch license plate that benefits the museum has helped to raise thousands of dollars to pay for school trips for students from Las Cruces and the surrounding region.

The chile plate would be an additional boon for education at a time when the museum and other state cultural affairs operations are making cuts due to a budget shortfall, Santiago said.

Brown noted that lawmakers in neighboring Colorado are also considering the creation of a license plate that would celebrate chile from the Pueblo area.

A bit of a rivalry has developed between the two states in recent years over who has the best chile, and Brown said she would like for New Mexico to be the first state with the peppers on a license plate.

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