Sunday, March 15, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
Most Nevadans have little direct interaction with their state government.
One exception is the Department of Motor Vehicles.
It’s already an easy target for contempt, so you would think state leaders would avoid making matters worse.
A plan by Gov. Jim Gibbons — nearly implemented, and still on the table — would make that interaction between the public and state government less convenient. The plan would end Saturday hours at DMV offices in Las Vegas and Reno and completely close two offices in Northern Nevada.
The DMV has a budget shortfall of almost $3 million — a fraction of the billions the state is short, but a problem nonetheless.
Gibbons asked department Director Edgar Roberts for a plan to address it. And a plan he got.
In the letter sent to lawmakers in late February, Gibbons informed them that he planned to eliminate Saturday hours at all Las Vegas and Reno offices. During a fiscal emergency, the governor has the power to place employees on leave without pay, he noted. “I therefore plan to declare a fiscal emergency with respect to DMV’s budget for the current fiscal year and will order Director Roberts to reduce the weekly hours of all staff.”
The furlough would initially require employees take four hours a week off without pay, with the unpaid time off eventually rising to eight hours a week.
“This action is necessary to meet the budget shortfall for this fiscal year and avoid layoffs at the DMV,” Gibbons wrote.
It seemed like dramatic action for a $3 million shortfall.
Legislators were stunned.
“I said, ‘You can’t do this. This doesn’t make sense,’ ” Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley said.
She offered legislative fiscal staff to work with DMV officials to find savings in other areas, such as travel. If needed, she said, she could quickly pass emergency temporary legislation that would allow offices to keep operating.
There are already complaints of long wait times at the DMV, Buckley said. “The public relies on those services.”
Gibbons’ letter was accompanied by a memorandum from Roberts, the DMV director, explaining that the department’s revenue projections had dropped by more than $15.7 million. Under state law, the department can keep only 22 percent of the revenue it collects to cover its costs.
Roberts’ memo offered three scenarios to deal with the shortfall:
• Reduce worker hours, eliminate Saturday hours and close DMV “Express” offices in Reno and Sparks.
• Lay off 233 workers.
• Get the Legislature to pass a temporary suspension of the 22 percent cap.
The last option, Roberts wrote, “may appear to be the easiest but in fact the likelihood of our budget bill passing within the next one to two weeks is slim considering how long the legislative process is taking.” Such legislation “may receive attachments to the bill that could not be supported by the Governor and thus vetoed,” Roberts noted.
Gibbons’ chief of staff, Josh Hicks, acknowledged last week that the plan to furlough workers and cut DMV hours was nearly implemented.
Buckley said she has offered to sponsor temporary emergency legislation if it’s needed and, in the meantime, legislative staff is reviewing the DMV’s budget, looking for savings that would prevent service cuts.
Department spokesman Tom Jacobs said the memo was written by Roberts “at the darkest time.”
“Without any support whatsoever from the legislative side, this is what we would have to do,” he said.
Asked whether the DMV will still cut hours, he said, “I can’t say it’s not a possibility. It’s fair to say everything is on the table.”