Tuesday, July 14, 2009

California Could Save 50 Million a Year by Reforming the DMV

California has chosen not to go forward with the biometric facial recognition software required by the federal REAL ID Act of 2005. That will save the California Department of Motor Vehicles 4.5 million dollars in this fiscal year and an estimated 25 million dollars every year thereafter. Though the District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles is moving forward on biometrics, it offered a savings plan to offset REAL ID costs. California could apply these reforms and double the 25 million per year in savings. The D.C. reforms illustrate the opportunity citizens of California have to both save money and improve their life-styles.

The District of Columbia’s DMV is moving ahead with what many consider to be what President Reagan coined a "mark of the beast" national ID. Even though the national I.D. idea Reagan referred to was suggested in conjunction with a tattoo, the invasion of personal privacy biometric I.D.’s represent would be almost has horrible. However, the D.C. DMV's 09 Budget saved money for its change to facial recognition software and the computer indexed biometric photo’s of its citizens. The choices D.C. made in order to generate the savings are changes California’s D.M.V. could easily implement. If, like the District of Columbia, California changed the license expiration period from five years to eight years and allowed the registration fees to reflect a seven years value rather than five, California could “save” millions.

Although the logic of raising the fees while reducing the service is very typical of government, many taxpayers would happily agree to pay the same amount of money per year for an extra two years simply to avoid contact with the DMV of California. To reduce costs, the D.C. DMV extended inspections (which include smog tests in California) on new cars from a two year to a four year window. This extended window was supported by the E.P.A (p.3). California liberals, though, consider themselves special. They have managed to get special gasoline for California cars, and special emission protections especially designed for California, and of course, they have an especially strict smog testing requirement. California is also special by being a byword for impossible budget impasse. In other words, only the federal government is more impossibly in debt than California. We in California are proud to admit that we are more red than the Red Chinese. Sadly, we are more in the red than the Reds.

Nevertheless, even those that are very sensitive to carbon footprints must admit that a registration inspection on a new car is probably not necessary for at least three years. California has no such exemption for out of state vehicles.

The D.C. DMV hopes to generate enough savings from these measures to pay for its transition to facial recognition software, and although the cost of the facial recognition software per capita is difficult to compute, perhaps it is still safe to say that if California enacted the D.C. DMV reforms, a savings of 25 million per year would be a conservative estimate. Saving 25 million per year by not going with facial recognition software and then using the D.C. DMV proposals to reduce expenditure's another 25 million totals a tidy 50 million per year.

There is a larger principle behind such reforms of the California D.M.V. that that can save Californians the millions and millions more: California can no longer afford to needlessly pester its citizens. There are certain "services" provided by government that are odious to the majority of California's citizens. These should be ended now. Is a thumb print really necessary in applying for a commercial license? It wasn't before 1997. Is a ten-year history really needed for renewing a commercial driver's license? Aren't a social security number and a photograph enough to check for recent drunk driving and traffic violations? Aren't those violations already part of the applicant's records as "points" against his license? How much money can be saved by reducing these regulations? It is plain that a background check can be run without a thumb print. It is plain that the thumb print is "needed" to guard against crimes one might commit in the future.

The regulations that are a boondoggle to business in California cost money. Cut the regulations to save money and encourage economic growth.

After the most egregious bureaucratic infringements on personal liberties are expunged from California's Department of Motor Vehicles, consideration should be given to increasing fees for superior service. For instance, in any given year, budget shortfall or no, complaints of four hour Kafkaesque waits for the simplest services can be heard. Surely, as furloughs and full time positions are reduced, this will again be the case. Perhaps citizens would be willing to pay for an appointment on days that are "furloughed."

Why should a doctor who could bill at least $200.00 an hour spend nearly $1,000 of his time waiting in a line! Instead, he could be helping reduce another long line, the line of seriously needy patients waiting in an emergency room for treatment. Perhaps, the MD would be willing to part with a tenth of this wasted salary for an appointment on a furlough day? Let the tables be turned: three MD's per hour ought to make opening the DMV with it priceless services possible after all.

Departments of California's government that provide services, like the DMV, ought to be self-supporting. Greater transparency should also be required. For instance, how much does each driver's license driving test and knowledge test cost the taxpayer? Such information is vital to evaluating DMV services and practices. For instance, driving a car is so often connected to earning a living that the initial tests offered by the DMV are included in the small fees for a learning permit and license; however, how many times should citizens be allowed to fail these tests without additional fees? The D.C. DMV proposed savings by limiting the number of written tests (knowledge tests) to three per year. Perhaps it is better to have an increasing fee for each written and driving test an individual fails. Without a clear and transparent accounting for the costs of each DMV service such savings are difficult to evaluate.