Despite complaints about escalating wait times for thousands of customers at California’s Department of Motor Vehicles, state lawmakers sided with the Brown administration Wednesday and refused to order an official audit into its management.
The audit request needed at least eight supporters from the Joint Legislative Audit Committee — four from the Assembly and four from the Senate — for approval. After two hours of debate, the request fell one vote shy. Assembly members approved the request, but three Democratic state senators did not vote, effectively killing the measure.
Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, has been a vocal critic of the DMV and led the charge supporting the audit. He said Gov. Jerry Brown was to blame for his refusal to chime in on the issue.
In a budget hearing on Tuesday, the administration’s DMV director, Jean Shiomoto, claimed an audit would “strain” department resources and take focus away from reducing wait times.
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In a statement, a Brown spokeswoman declined to answer questions about whether the governor supports the audit. Instead, the office asked the Legislature to approve a budget request for the DMV to hire more people to deal with a surge of office visits to apply for the federal REAL ID licenses..
“(The long wait times) needs to get fixed,” Brown’s office said in a statement. “We’re throwing everything at it and look forward to the legislature approving more DMV staff as quickly as possible.”
Lawmakers approved nearly $17 million in additional funding DMV officials say they will use to hire another 230 staff. Previously, the agency added Saturday hours at 60 offices, hired 500 new workers and redirected nearly 300 other workers to ease the load.
Democratic Sens. Ben Allen of Santa Monica, Jim Beall of San Jose and Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens failed to support the request.
Beall said after the hearing that the audit would be burdensome and unnecessary.
“The governor is kind of like, ‘There’s a fire,’ “ Beall said. “The governor’s trying to put out the fire. The audit’s going to take seven months. We don’t have seven months. We’ve got to deal with this now. I want the governor to focus on getting the problem solved now. He says he wants to do that too.”
For now, Patterson’s request is in limbo, and he blamed the Senate Democrats who did not support it.
“I’m not surprised,” he said, “that politics trumped the very important responsibilities that these legislators had to the people of California.”