It was an issue that carried nothing but positive political capital: Authorize an audit of the state Department of Motor Vehicles to find out why wait times at DMV branches had become absurdly long.
And yet, a joint Assembly-Senate committee could not muster the necessary votes on Wednesday to authorize the audit to get to the bottom of the problem. And that committee won’t meet again until next year.
So, the scorecard reads: State bureaucracy 1, California drivers 0.
The situation left Fresno Assemblyman Jim Patterson frosted.
“The members of this committee who voted against this audit request just sentenced California drivers to interminable wait times,” Patterson said in an e-mail statement.
Patterson is a lead agitator in the Assembly to get the DMV to solve the problem, and he said he plans to bring up the audit proposal again in 2019. But, “I expect the lines to be even worse by then.”
What brought the audit idea to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee were stories of average motorists entering the DMV for routine things like license renewals and vehicle ownership transfers. What they discovered was how they should have either taken a copy of “War and Peace” or downloaded a season of their favorite TV show. In particular, those without appointments waited for four hours, six hours, even longer.
The clogging was caused by citizens trying to get Real ID cards due to the federal requirement that travelers show them by Oct. 1, 2020 whenever they go through airport security checkpoints.
Anticipating that possibility, the Legislature granted $23 million to the DMV this year to extend hours and combat wait times. Only recently did the DMV take steps to address the backlog, like opening certain branches on Saturdays.
Patterson had the right idea to seek an audit, as $23 million is not small change. He is right to champion for the average driver — they are taxpayers who foot the bill for everything the DMV does or does not do. And he will be heroic if he carries the battle into next year, even though he should not have to.
The DMV director made commitments to legislators this week to do better. That must occur. But until then, Californians will be waiting, in long lines.