MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

May 6, 2013

Senate votes to increase fee for driver’s licenses

Extra $12 would go to hire more examiners

— OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma drivers would have to pay an extra $12 for a license under a bill given final approval by the Legislature on Monday and sent to Gov. Mary Fallin.

The Senate voted 30-15 for the bill that would increase the cost of issuing or renewing a standard driver’s license from $21.50 to $33.50. The cost of various commercial drivers’ licenses also is going up by $10. The new rates will be effective Nov. 1.

The fee hikes will generate about $8.7 million and allow the Department of Public Safety to hire more than 20 driver’s license examiners to employ across the state, especially in areas where long lines have been the norm for those taking driver’s license tests.

“This was huge for us to better serve the public,” said Maj. Rusty Rhoades, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety. “I think everyone agrees the biggest issue is in our driver’s license division. That’s where we have our biggest need.”

Rhoades said the additional revenue generated through the fee hikes will provide the revenue necessary to pay for nearly all of the items outlined in the agency’s budget request, including upgrades to its communication system, increased costs of its digital driver’s license contract, and technology upgrades and facility improvements for driver’s license testing.

Rhoades said the agency had 138 driver’s license examiners in 2006, and is now down to fewer than 100 statewide.

Several senators agreed the agency needs the revenue to pay for the services, but questioned why the money couldn’t have been appropriated by the Legislature from the general fund instead of hiking the costs for the average Oklahoman.

Sen. Tom Ivester complained it’s disingenuous for Republicans to congratulate themselves for cutting the state’s income tax from 5.25 percent to 5 percent, while passing bills that raise fees.

“The difference between a tax and a fee is one is proposed by a Democrat and the other is proposed by a Republican,” said Ivester, D-Elk City. “It’s $12 for this, $10 for something else, and pretty soon the income tax cut wasn’t worth anything.”

The author of the bill, Sen. Don Barrington, said he’s constantly receiving calls from constituents upset about the long lines at driver’s license examination sites.

“I’m not crazy about increasing fees, but sometimes you need to make those decisions to get those services out there to the citizens of Oklahoma,” said Barrington, R-Lawton.

The bill previously passed the House on a 53-42 vote, barely receiving the 51 votes needed for passage.

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