The State Worker

DMV warns of longer wait times if it doesn’t get more money

The Department of Motor Vehicles wants a special budget boost and is warning lawmakers that Californians could suffer painful delays if it doesn’t get the extra money.

The DMV submitted a budget request last week for $40.4 million to keep its offices operating with fairly short wait times, sustaining progress the department achieved after residents and lawmakers complained last summer about long delays they experienced around the state.

Lawmakers have a month to consider the proposal. If they don’t approve it, the DMV warns of a “return of unacceptable field office wait times.”

In a statement, the department expressed concern that few people have come in for so-called Real ID cards, the federally mandated identification that states must adopt to comply with a 2005 law.

People must have the cards by Oct. 1, 2020 if they want to board planes and enter other federal facilities, such as military bases, without a passport. That mandate is one of the factors stressing DMV workloads.

“There is still work to be done as we continue to prepare for the remaining Californians who wish to obtain a REAL ID card,” said a statement from Armando Botello, DMV spokesman.

California issued nearly 2.5 million Real ID cards in 2018, far short of the estimated 22.5 million more that have yet to be given. The DMV worries it won’t have enough workers to support the uptick in customer traffic as the Real ID deadline approaches.

Lawmakers last year gave the DMV an additional $63.6 million to hire 780 more workers and reduce customer delays. The department also made 119 additional “emergency” hires and recruited 109 retired state workers.

The DMV has about 8,300 employees and a $1.2 billion budget. The department has about the same number of employees as it did in 2012, according to archived state budgets.

To keep the 780 employees and hire 120 retired state workers for part-time positions, the DMV would need $40.4 million, the department says in its budget request.

At its worst, customers waited in line last summer for about seven hours. The department’s latest monthly report sent to lawmakers on Jan. 4 shows a dramatic reduction in wait times, with the statewide average dropping to 13 minutes for customers with appointments and 44 minutes for customers without appointments.

“The DMV has made considerable progress reducing wait times by 86 minutes in the last five months,” Botello said.

Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, leads the chamber’s budget committee and has supported additional funding in the past. He has concerns that offices have widely varying wait times and wants to take a closer look at them before approving the DMV’s request.

“Before we continue to appropriate additional resources, we want to ensure employees are being deployed correctly, and long term issues regarding technology and efficiency are being addressed,” Ting said.

Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, plans to request another outside audit of the DMV. He’s skeptical that more money won’t help the department unless the state addresses the DMV’s outdated technology.

“DMV insiders tell me that all the money in the world won’t fix the systemic problems facing this department,” Patterson said. “Until the computer systems are upgraded, we are throwing taxpayer money away and California drivers will pay for it.”

The Department of Finance, an arm of the governor’s office, wrote that it also would prefer to evaluate the DMV’s funding request with more information about its “processes.” Several inquiries are underway, including an audit by the Finance Department.

“While we cannot delay the need for additional funding in the current year while these reviews are being concluded, the expectation is that the results of these reviews will help inform the development of broader improvements that will be proposed for” next year, Finance Department Deputy Director Jacqueline Wong-Hernandez wrote.

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