MISSION — It’s your choice, Kansas.
Get your car tags faster or fight more orange barrels on the way home.
Kansas wants more motorists to renew their car and truck tags online to help relieve what have been months of long lines and frayed tempers at state Division of Motor Vehicles offices.
But the state Highway Department is paying for this freebie.
The fee — not charged to those who renew in person or by mail — was imposed to help cover credit card or other electronic processing costs.
Kansans registered about 2.4 million cars and trucks last year, of which 269,000, or about 11 percent, were registered online.
Revenue Department spokeswoman Freda Warfield said the state used money from motorists’ license and registration fees to cover the projected $1.2 million cost of the one-year waiver “as part of an overall strategy to improve customer service and efficiency.”
The $1.2 million, which could increase if enough motorists switch to the free online choice, comes out of revenue from the license and registration fees originally headed for the Kansas Department of Transportation.
That department also faces potential funding problems. More motorists are driving more fuel efficient cars and paying less fuel tax, a key source of revenue for the $1.8 billion annually the Transportation Department spends to help build and maintain 141,000 miles of Kansas roadways.
“We can cover $1.2 million out of existing operations,” said Steve Swartz, a Transportation Department information officer.
Contractors who are still fighting a persistently sluggish Kansas economy are turning in low enough bids to allow the department extra breathing room, Swartz said.
“But still, $1.2 million is an amount we take seriously,” he said.
This won’t be the first time Highway Department funds have been borrowed to cover other costs. Legislators and governors in the last dozen years have pulled $1.4 billion out of Transportation Department funds to cover various emergencies and unexpected bills. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback most recently pulled $200 million out a year ago to help fund state Medicaid programs. He has said that such borrowings must stop, however.
Long lines and long waits for titling Kansas vehicles and renewing license tags have mushroomed statewide since the Revenue Department shut down DMV operations for a week in May. The state was switching to a new $40 million computer network that was supposed to be faster and better than the 30-year-old collection of mainframe computers the department was used.
Even as the long lines and long waits have abated at many DMV offices across Kansas, motorists in Olathe and Topeka still faced waits estimated as long as five hours Thursday.
Kansas legislators have ordered an audit of how the changeover was planned and executed, but that isn’t expected to begin until later this year. Meantime, the Revenue Department is withholding a final $2.5 million payment to 3M Co., the system’s designer, until Kansas believes the problems are solved. 3M says the system works as it was designed and the company will help with training and support until the work is completed.