Long lines at DMV caused by furloughs | NevadaAppeal.com

Long lines at DMV caused by furloughs

Las Vegas Sun

(AP) – For the impatient motorists waiting in those long lines at the DMV, it might be easy to believe the situation is the inevitable result of the state’s fiscal crisis and budget cuts.

But no. Instead, it’s a byproduct of furloughs of state workers elsewhere in the Nevada government and what some might say is a misguided sense of fairness. Department of Motor Vehicles workers, as well as those processing unemployment claims and welfare, have gotten dragged into furloughs in the name of equity, lawmakers say. Forcing state DMV workers to take off one day a month – and creating longer lines in the process – does nothing to remedy the state’s general fund budget deficit.

But it has forced Nevadans to spend drastically more time tapping their toes in line. In the two years state workers have been forced to take furloughs, average wait times at DMV offices have increased by as much as 67 percent.

At the Henderson DMV office, the example, average wait grew by more than a half-hour, to 82 minutes in August from the same month in 2008. And the office served more than 2,000 fewer customers over that time, a pattern seen at other offices.

The DMV is financed through a separate state highway fund made up of federal money, gasoline tax revenue and a percentage of fees collected on licenses, registrations and other transactions at the DMV.

The money saved from the 1,130 DMV employees taking furloughs remains in the highway fund and could be put toward additional projects, such as repaving a state highway. But the health of the state’s highway fund is far from the top priority facing Nevada policymakers today.

The major focus of legislators’ and administrators’ angst this session is the state’s general fund, the pot of money that pays most of the costs of running public schools, prisons and universities, and of providing health care for the poor, disabled and elderly. It is separate from the state’s highway fund, which bankrolls the DMV and road projects. The state’s constitution prevents the use of highway funds to balance the general fund budget.

Gov. Jim Gibbons’ administration favored a flat 6 percent pay cut for state workers this past legislative session. That would have maintained services for the public and been more straightforward for departments to administer.

But lawmakers opted to force state workers to take one unpaid day off a month, arguing that with employees facing pay and health benefit cuts, it would be more equitable if they had a day off. The furlough equaled a 4.6 percent pay cut.

Lawmakers said requiring all state workers to take the furlough was an issue of fairness.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Reno, said, “There would be horrible morale problems if we started making exceptions.”

Stacy Woodbury, Gibbons’ deputy chief of staff, agreed that “it is a parity issue. It is not fair to have one employee subject to furlough because he is paid by the general fund and another not because he is paid by federal funds.”

She said the same issue comes into play at the state Transportation Department, with the workers who pay unemployment insurance benefits (who are paid through federal funds) and in many social services programs that are currently in high demand.

Exempting those employees, she said, would create “extraordinarily bad morale, and office productivity suffers when employees are treated differently due to pay source.”

But some lawmakers say internal morale shouldn’t trump public discontent over the long lines at the DMV.

The situation has fueled speculation among budget hawks that DMV lines are being manipulated as part of a political game of chicken with the public – cut back the most-used or most-valuable services first to build support for tax increases.

Paul Enos, a conservative lobbyist and president of the Nevada Motor Transport Association, which represents truckers, compared it to when the universities proposed getting rid of marching bands in the face of budget cuts.

“They want a public groundswell. Then it’s easier to make the argument additional revenue is required,” Enos said.

He said he was unaware whether the furloughs were necessary at the DMV. But, he said, the agency “is an area that everyone has to use.”

Tom Jacobs, spokesman for the agency, said because revenue was higher than expected, the agency could have met its budget without furloughs.