Capitol Alert

California DMV budget rises 17 percent — that’s $242 million — in Real ID push

What is REAL ID?

Starting Jan. 22, Californians need to apply for a new, federally-approved driver's license or ID before the old ones become invalid for air travel.
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Starting Jan. 22, Californians need to apply for a new, federally-approved driver's license or ID before the old ones become invalid for air travel.

Millions of Californians have yet to visit the Department of Motor Vehicles for a driver’s license that will soon be required if they want to board airplanes or enter other federal facilities, including prisons and military bases, without a passport.

To help the DMV promote the federally mandated Real ID program and navigate ongoing implementation challenges, state lawmakers approved a budget on Thursday that will boost the department’s budget by more than $242 million.

It’s a 17 percent increase that brings the DMV’s total budget to $1.36 billion.

Republicans, and even some Democrats, have condemned the idea of adding more money to the DMV until structural leadership changes are in place to address challenges that have bogged down its Real ID and voter registration programs.

Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, helped draft the state’s nearly $215 billion budget that is on its way to Gov. Gavin Newsom. While Ting said in April that the DMV wouldn’t know what to do with more resources until it got a permanent leaders, Ting voted in favor of giving the department the extra money.

He said Newsom’s administration was “adamant” the DMV get more resources to address an expected surge in customer visits ahead of the Oct. 1, 2020 Real ID deadline. In a compromise, lawmakers added accountability measures requiring the DMV to disclose more data on key performance metrics, offer updates on hiring a permanent director, and continue providing monthly reports on wait times.

“I would’ve preferred to have a little tighter oversight over their finances, but we couldn’t find a way to do that that also allowed them the flexibility to move quickly,” Ting said.

Lawmakers in the budget committed to giving the DMV another $200 million for the 2020-21 fiscal year. They also approved a plan to pass credit card fees on to DMV customers.

State Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, was more supportive of the additional funds, saying on the senate floor Thursday that “it would be irresponsible for us to choke that department and prevent them from providing essential services.”

Republicans worry the increased money for the DMV is rewarding bad behavior.

“It’s a sad reality of government,” said Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Tehama. “When things get bad with the DMV — a failed agency — what does the Legislature and the governor do? Well, we reward them with more money, not make them more accountable. ... That isn’t fixing. That’s feeding the beast.”

The DMV declined to comment.

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Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.
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