Tax debate reaches driver's license stations

News-DemocratApril 29, 2014 

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White


About 25 driver's license stations could close, and about 200 employees lose their jobs, if one of two budgets presented to Secretary of State Jesse White last week were to become reality.

The office has not determined which stations would be the first to close.

The other proposed budget had no change to the office's budget.

The possible cut of $39 million to the Secretary of State's budget would equal about 10 percent of the agency's entire revenue stream.

The cuts could be among those necessary if the General Assembly doesn't extend the temporary, 67 percent increase in the state income tax. The tax hike, equal to a week of pay, is supposed to end in January, but Gov. Pat Quinn and other Democrats want to make it permanent.

Shuttering facilities is a "devastating" possibility to the state's nine million drivers, said Henry Haupt, deputy press secretary.

Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, isn't convinced that the office's needs are any greater than the needs of others in the cash-poor state.

"I'd remind the Secretary of State of several things: Schools haven't been fully funded since 1999, (programs for the underserved) haven't been fully funded since 2000. ..."

"Your priorities are your priorities, but mine don't happen to be the driver's license terminals."

Kay also said there are bigger issues at play.

"Crying wolf is sometimes a way to get legislators to extend the temporary tax increase. ... (They're) just trying to get the legislature's attention."

The House Appropriations Committee had presented the possibility to White last week.

"The legislature wanted to know what impact that kind of cut would have," Haupt said. "Obviously a cut of that magnitude would be devastating."

The secretary's office determined that a reduction in $39 million from the general revenue -- the main source of revenue for the agency -- would have to result in the facility closures and employee cuts. Not included in that reduction is another $1 million that White already planned to take from his budget.

"No one right now is looking for those 25," Haupt said. "We remain hopeful that this is an exercise in speculation."

If the facilities were to close, a number of factors would be used to determine which would be cut. Factors considered are the facility's rental cost, foot traffic and the needs of the geographic area, including proximity to other driver's facilities.

"Roughly 10 million people visit our driver's services facilities annually in person," Haupt said. The closures would be based on facility rent, geographic location so that each area remains served, foot traffic and other factors.

Kay says no one wants people to lose jobs, but during recent talks in the appropriations committees on which he serves, "most people that I have talked to have come prepared to take a financial diminishment."

There are 121 driver's license facilities in Illinois today, employing just under 3500 people. The Secretary of State's Office has said if the budget is cut, then 25 facilities will close, but has specified which facilities those might be is unknown.

Area Number of facilities

Chicago 29

Northern 18

Western 16

Central 27*

Southern 31**

* Springfield has three.

** Belleville, East St. Louis, Waterloo and Granite City are in the Southern district.

City Number of employees

Belleville 16

East St. Louis 11

Waterloo 8

Granite City 13

Nashville 4

Edwardsville 11

Bethalo 11

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