Before Washington state bureaucrats decide which driver’s licensing offices to close, we recommend they grab an atlas – preferably a used one to save money – and measure the distance between towns. Close an office in Auburn, and it’s a couple of miles to the next one. Close an office in Eastern Washington, and residents could be looking at a 100-mile round trip.
In February, the governor’s office proposed closing 25 of the state’s 66 offices as a cost-cutting measure. The need for pruning the budget is obvious, with the state staring at a $9 billion budget shortfall. But the plan would save only $2.6 million over two years, and the choice of which offices to close seems ill-conceived.
The offices in Republic and Oroville are among those slated for closing, though they’re open only a few days a month. State Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, notes that the shuttering of the three offices in his sprawling district would save about $44,000 a year, which is about $20,000 less than the average annual compensation for one state worker. The closing of the part-time office in Friday Harbor, on San Juan Island, would save only $3,300 a year, according to the Associated Press.
Closing remote offices causes much greater inconvenience than closing offices in urban areas. This is especially true for people in remote areas who work during traditional business hours or have disabilities that limit mobility.
About 40 percent of driver’s license renewals are done online, but many rural households do not have personal computers connected to the Internet. The governor’s office has discussed the installation of automated licensing kiosks, but this plan hasn’t moved past the talking stage.
When Gov. Chris Gregoire demanded that all pharmacies carry emergency contraceptives, she highlighted the long distances rejected patients in rural areas have to travel. While obtaining or renewing a driver’s license or state ID isn’t an emergency, it is a requirement the state places on residents. So the state has a duty to make sure this service isn’t a big inconvenience.
Both houses in the Legislature have earmarked fewer licensing offices for closure and concentrated them in urban areas. Even if more are to be closed, sparing the rural ones makes sense.
We’re sympathetic to the need for budget cuts, but this one could use a better sense of direction.
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