Registry Fee Increases = Longer Lines, Less Service

An exposť last year by the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune ("No competition, no regard," by John Macone, July 5, 1999) reported:

"The registry's budget is about $57 million, but it brings in about $800 million in license and registration fees, tickets, sales taxes and other fees. That income represents about 8 percent of the state's entire budget of $20.5 billion.... With $807 million in revenue last year, it is the second-biggest generator of money for the state ... outdone only by the massive state Department of Revenue, which collects income and sales taxes. That income represents about 8 percent of the state's entire budget of $20.5 billion."

It further reported: "Among those arguing for ending the free renewals is the venerable Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a think tank that has been studying state spending for 67 years.... 'The money goes into highway funds, so clearly it makes sense,' he said. 'That's why we argued for the fees to be restored.'"

Its follow-up editorial ("It's time to demand better," July 7, 1999) noted: "The agency rakes in $14 in revenues for every $1 it spends on operations -- $807 million last year on a budget of $57.6 million."

Discounting that $438 million of that $807 million last year accounts for auto sales/use taxes collected for the Department of Revenue by the Registry of Motor Vehicles, this still leaves $369 million in just RMV revenue -- to fund its less-than-$60 million operation.

Now they intend to extract an additional $100 million annually from us - and we're going to make more appearances at the Registry and stand in longer lines for the privilege!

All this further aggravation and taxpayer expense just so the pols can grab another $100 million a year. We're expected to believe that the Bacon Hill Cabal can't find it in a $22 billion pork-laden budget, the $1.4 billion "rainy day" slush fund, or the $8.6 billion tobacco settlement "taxpayer reimbursement."

The House just added almost five times that amount to the Governor's proposed budget -- it added that much in amendments alone during the "Animal House" all-night session!

MINE, MINE, MINE!  More Is Never Enough!

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Chip Ford

The Boston Herald
Friday, April 28, 2000

Dig woes may mean longer Registry lines
by Cosmo Macero Jr.

Drivers may soon have yet another reason to hate the Big Dig and the Registry of Motor Vehicles as the project's voracious appetite for cash threatens to lengthen lines and intensify headaches at the beleaguered agency.

Anxious Registry officials are warning that tens of thousands of new customers will flood already-stressed branch offices every month if car registration fees are reinstated to help cover the Big Dig's $1.4 billion cost overrun.

"You're paying for a Cadillac, but all (we) can deliver is a jalopy," said Registrar of Motor Vehicles Dan Grabauskas yesterday.

Moreover, a plan to spend some $14 million on more staff and new phone and computer equipment for the Registry is falling victim to the Central Artery project.

It was zapped by House budget writers to make room for a costly Big Dig bailout plan, and it appears doubtful the Senate will act to restore it.

The crush of new customers is very likely, sources say, since a House-Senate conference committee is prepared to sign off on the reinstated fees, and Gov. Paul Cellucci has backed off his opposition to the plan.

"(Motorists) are paying for crappy service," said one Registry insider, who spoke only on condition of anonymity. "Now they're going to pay more money and get even crappier service."

With 1980s-era computers, a phone system that misses 88 percent of calls and short staffing levels in virtually every branch, the Registry has already been dogged by customer complaints and scathing performance reviews from government agencies.

"When I met with House leadership, I was told that we would have our money for the big-ticket items," said Grabauskas, lamenting the Big Dig's double blow to his agency. "Everything the Legislature has asked us to do, we've done. We've revamped the way we're doing things, and people are complimentary. But I'm getting nervous."

Registry officials say policy and fee changes routinely swell the number of customers who handle their business with the agency in person, even though some tasks can be handled by mail. The reinstatement of auto registration fees, officials say, will send an estimated 50,000 additional people each month to the Registry's 39 branches.

"That's where I really throw my arms up," Grabauskas said. "My number-one job over here is to shorten the lines. But there needs to be some kind of investment made in the Registry."

Registration renewal fees for passenger vehicles, which were canceled by former Gov. William F. Weld in 1996, are slated to be $30 every two years. The fee proposal is part of a comprehensive Big Dig bill that could be released as early as today.

Dubbed by Cellucci as a "rising star," Grabauskas now risks joining a long line of registry chiefs who promised reform but couldn't deliver for one reason or another.

The $14 million, which Grabauskas all but demanded upon taking over as Registrar last fall, was designed to meet current equipment and staffing needs and simply catch up with the maddening lines and phone backlogs.

But House members pulled the cash from a supplemental budget, saying it was for non-essential "expansion" programs at the Registry.

"There is no agency expansion," said House Ways and Means spokeswoman Kim Rezendes. "Because of the Big Dig, we're not comfortable spending (surplus funds)."

While Grabauskas said he was "cautiously optimistic" after a recent meeting with Senate Ways and Means Chair Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford), Montigny said yesterday the Registry's plight may be part of the "pain" taxpayers suffer because of the Big Dig crisis.

"There is certainly no guarantee (the funding will be restored)," Montigny said.

He said lawmakers are being told the state's $500 million budget surplus, from which the Registry funding would come, for the time being is off limits for anything but the Big Dig bailout.

"That $500 million would have been available for things like the Registry," Montigny said. "But anyone who thinks we're going to have free-flowing funds this year is wrong. Forget about it."

Several sources, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said Grabauskas is concerned that Cellucci is doing little to help convince lawmakers to restore the $14 million.

With intense pressure from federal officials to come up with a Big Dig bailout, observers say, Cellucci is wary of ruling out the registration fees or demanding that the Registry funds be appropriated from the $500 million surplus.

Cellucci's press secretary, John Birtwell, said he thinks the $14 million "may find its way back in" to the budget.

But Registry officials note that even with the $14 million, the agency is ill-prepared to deal with the expected flood of new customers.

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