DMVs to face three-day backlog

The lines could be especially long at the two Prince William area Department of Motor Vehicles service centers Saturday when they reopen after being closed since Tuesday.

The last day of the month always sees a lot of business, but add to that the fact that for three days DMV offices have been closed, an unusual occurrence until DMV offices statewide began closing on Wednesdays a month ago to help close a $2 billion state budget hole.

Gov. Mark R. Warner announced the closure plan in October that forced layoffs and cuts in services by all agencies, including those provided by the high-profile DMV. The DMV dismissed about 600 employees, about a third of the total firings announced by the governor, and it is fending off complaints of slower service and longer queues

DMV officials recommend renewing vehicle registrations and licenses over the phone at 1-888-337-4782, online at , or at its 24-hour machines like the one at the Manassas DMV.

Republicans have criticized Warner for the cutback in hours and the elimination of 12 DMV offices around the state including the Fair Oaks location as politically targeted.

Delegate Vincent F. Callahan Jr., R-34th, of Fairfax questioned in a recent Appropriations Committee meeting why the DMV, which he described as “a money-maker,” had suffered so many employee layoffs and reductions in offices and hours. “It’s like the federal government closing down the Washington Monument,” Callahan said in a reference to the nasty budget disputes between the U.S. Congress and then-President Bill Clinton.

Republicans said initially that he is trying to rile voters in the run-up to the 2003 elections for the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate and to generate sympathy for a tax increase, but DMV officials held a press conference last week to show how decisions were based on factors such as lease arrangements, which was the case for the Fair Oaks closure.

“That’s like saying the Department of Taxation pays for itself,” said Delegate Vivian Watts, D-39th, of Fairfax. “You’re not paying for the DMV. The service you’re getting by registering your car is roads and police protection It was not political. [DMV commissioner] Ab Quillian was someone who Jim Gilmore selected.”

The majority of revenue to the DMV goes to transportation and other agencies including the Department of Aviation and port authority with only a small amount sent to operate DMV offices, said Larry Harrison, assistant DMV commissioner for planning and budgeting.

Warner rarely sounds partisan, but he opened up on his monthly call-in radio show two weeks ago describing the grumbling as “hypocrisy in politics” by the GOP majority.

“Some of those who screamed the most [about reining in government] … are now screaming the loudest,” he said.

“We’re a state agency like other state agencies,” Harrison said. “The general fund has a big hole in it” so the agency must trim like others, he said. The 70 DMV offices in the state have had tight resources the last three years, especially after Sept. 11, 2001 when rental vehicle fees dried up. It is a major money maker for the DMV: A 4 percent gross receipts tax is paid on car rentals, and DMV gets 3 percent, VDOT gets 1 percent.

The DMV runs like a private business, using resources in the past to improve services for customers and come up with alternative ways of serving like over the Internet.

Other agencies are cutting too, Watts said, and those affects are not as visible as the long lines at the DMV.

“I’m certainly hearing about the cuts, particularly from the mentally retarded and disabled communities, the elderly. Too often there is no one watching after them.” Community college tuition is up 31 percent, taking away affordability to those who most need it, and students who are in colleges and universities face bigger classes or cannot get into them, she said.

“We are one of the lowest tax states and our services have to reflect that,” she said.

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