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Gov. Newsom proposes $168 million to reduce long lines at California's DMV

Gov. Newsom proposes $168 million to reduce long lines at California's DMV
A line stretches around a DMV in South L.A. in August. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed Friday to add $168 million to the budget of the California Department of Motor Vehicles for more hiring and improvements to keep reducing wait times at field offices that ran up to six hours last summer.

The proposal will face scrutiny from lawmakers who say they need more assurances that the agency’s management is turning a corner as the state is seeking to appoint a new agency director.

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“I do believe that the DMV needs more resources, because they have more customers coming in for the REAL IDs, but I don’t believe that the leadership team there now knows what to do with those resources,” said Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), who is chairman of The Assembly Budget Committee.

The request sent to the Legislature includes an extra $6 million for the current fiscal year, ending June 30, and $162 million more for next year.

That would represent a 13% increase in the previously proposed DMV budget of $1.2 billion next year.

The proposed improvements include measures recommended by auditors and a strike team appointed by Newsom to fix the ailing agency.

“Over time, DMV has increasingly struggled to meet the public’s needs in field offices, on its website, through the use of self-service terminal — kiosks — and via phone calls,” said a letter from Finance Director Keely Martin Bosler. The new budget proposal “increases funding for a number of long term improvements that will begin transitioning the DMV to a better, more customer-friendly department.”

Residents complained last summer of waiting four to six hours at DMV field offices as the agency dealt with complications caused by Real IDs, a new driver’s license and identification card design required for airline passengers starting in late 2020.

In response, Bosler conducted an audit released this week that found “significant deficiencies” in DMV operations, including problems with management practices, staffing levels and technology.

Many of the changes in Friday’s budget proposal are being recommended by the DMV Reinvention Strike Team, appointed by Newsom in January and headed by state Government Operations Agency Secretary Marybel Batjer.

The budget increase will fund 178 new staff members, continue funding for 900 existing temporary positions and add 970 temporary hires, which will allow the agency to continue operating with expanded service hours.

Money will also go to computer technology improvements, including a redesign of the DMV website so it is easier to use, the expansion of kiosks in public places where transactions can be completed, and changes needed to allow the agency to accept credit cards from those renewing drivers’ licenses, the governor’s finance office told legislators.

Other funds will go to improve employee training, while $9.5 million is proposed for a media campaign to educate the public about how best to use the DMV.

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