In a dramatic move to help restart the stalled state budget negotiations, Democratic legislators are calling for eliminating the state Department of Motor Vehicles and moving its functions into other agencies.
In the future, motorists could potentially renew their licenses at a supermarket — in the same way that they now conduct some banking transactions at grocery stores. Democrats have seen the success of motor vehicle transactions at AAA offices, and they believe that a "user-friendly" experience can be replicated at shopping centers, malls and other retail locations. The move would require moving many employees to different locations, but it would be accomplished with no layoffs.
"Other sectors of the economy have already figured this out — banks, pharmacies, certain health care professions," said Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams. "We're confident we will save many millions of dollars by doing it this way."
The idea was unveiled at a time when insiders say that Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell and Democratic legislators are about $1.5 billion apart in their closed-door budget negotiations. The two sides have not met for bipartisan talks since last Tuesday, and the state has been operating without a new budget since the fiscal year started July 1.
DMV spokesman William Seymour questioned the Democrats' proposal Tuesday night, saying that "the information so far does not suggest any real cost savings when all factors are taken into account."
There's another concern, Seymour said. "We have serious concerns about people losing various privacy protections should the registration and licensing data be given to law enforcement authorities to collect and store," he said. "We have great respect for the state police, but do not think these functions fit into its already large operations." There's another concern regarding the privacy of Social Security numbers that are now kept by DMV.
"Further, we also see serious conflicts of interest," Seymour said, "most especially in the area of DUI — since this proposal would have law enforcement both arresting and overseeing the judgment of guilt or innocence in the administrative ... hearings DMV now does."
In those hearings, a DMV officer determines whether a person's license will be suspended after considering an arrest report prepared by the state police.
The often-maligned agency is a focal point of complaints by residents throughout the state, including those who have waited for hours at the crowded Wethersfield office as they hold a number and wait their turn to talk to a clerk.
The idea will be voted on Thursday by the budget-writing appropriations committee, along with other proposals to balance the state's budget for the next two years, which has a projected deficit of $8.55 billion.
The DMV proposal, which would be tested under a pilot program, would not involve any layoffs of the agency's more than 700 employees, Williams said. But DMV employees would be shifted organizationally to the departments of public safety, consumer protection and environmental protection.
Under the Democratic proposal, the current tailpipe testing program for motor vehicle emissions would be overseen by the DEP. The licensing of dealers and vendors would be shifted into the consumer protection department. The central DMV administration, which includes payroll, human resources and purchasing, would be shifted into the Department of Public Safety, which now oversees the state police.
"This goes back to using a time of crisis to reinvent government where we can," Williams said Tuesday. "This is the biggest change or reinvention in state government that anyone has proposed so far. ... I don't think we should miss this opportunity."
Williams has already broached the subject during closed-door negotiations over the state budget. Although both Rell and legislators have agreed not to discuss the details of their closed-door talks, some of the details of new ideas will be spilling out during committee debates Thursday.
"We've been sort of stuck in a ditch more recently" on the talks, Williams said.
Rich Harris, a spokesman for Rell, said that the administration has not yet seen the full details of the Democratic plan.
"Since February, Gov. Rell has proposed numerous agency consolidations, mergers or reorganizations, and each of them has been rejected by the Democratic majority," Harris said. "If their proposal to reorganize the DMV is a genuine and sincere effort [to save money], it is a welcome first step."
He added, "If all it does is reorganize and reshuffle, then it's hard to see how it will achieve the savings necessary in light of the current two-year deficit and the need to reduce spending for budgets down the road."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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