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‘Boston Strong’ license plate: How should money be spent?

Five months after the Boston Marathon bombings, it still feels churlish to argue against anything labeled “Boston Strong.” That’s surely one reason more than 60 lawmakers have signed onto a bill to create a “Boston Strong” license plate, decorated with a ribbon in the Boston Marathon colors.

The plate would cost motorists $50 more than the standard plate, with proceeds going to the One Fund. Hearteningly, it would link the “Boston Strong” phrase directly to the bombings, rather than using it as a generic expression of civic pride — or a rallying cry for Boston’s sports teams. As bombing victims continue to rebuild their lives, there is value in expressions of community support, and to tapping into Boston’s continued generosity.

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Still, as time goes by, it’s worth questioning what, precisely, to do with those good impulses. Donations are still pouring into the One Fund, which has another $10 million in its coffers, months after the initial $61 million was disbursed to bombing victims. Now, the fund’s stewards are considering keeping the charity — first conceived as a short-lived operation with a clearly defined mission — open indefinitely.

That’s an understandable impulse, but it would lead to some tough decisions. Should the fund be used to help victims who didn’t qualify under the original rules? To send more money to victims who already qualified? To raise money for a permanent memorial? Is there a way to prevent an act of collective generosity from becoming a cause for division? And is there a point when the community’s charitable spirit — so strong in the wake of the bombings — should be funneled to other pressing civic needs?

These questions are difficult, but they’re worth asking, and they’re one reason to approach this well-meaning license plate idea with some hesitation. Expressing support and collecting money shouldn’t be an end in itself. The city needs to figure out the next step in its recovery from the bombings, and make sure that all of Boston’s strength is behind it.

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