What do the long lines at Motor Vehicle Administration offices and Baltimore's budget problems have in common?
Besides being chronic irritations, that is.
The answer: A simple, seemingly innocuous idea could provide a modicum of relief for both dilemmas.
And here's the really good news -- it won't cost Maryland taxpayers a thing.
State transportation officials say the General Assembly can accomplish this feat of ledger-demain simply by requiring motorists to renew the registrations on their automobiles, four-wheel drive vehicles, vans and pickup trucks once every two years instead of every year.
"We think it [the proposed legislation] is a winner," said W. Marshall Rickert, MVA administrator. "We don't really see a downside."
L By lengthening registration terms, the MVA would have to han
dle fewer transactions each year: about 1.5 million less than the current 5.5 million, Mr. Rickert said. That alone would save the agency about $2.2 million annually in salaries, paperwork, postage and computer data entry.
It would also shorten lines for customers who show up at the administration's Glen Burnie headquarters and 10 regional offices, Mr. Rickert said.
About 3 million cars and trucks would be affected by the proposed law. It would not apply to the state's approximately 300,000 commercial vehicles.
Currently, most automobile owners pay $27.50 to renew their registration each year. Owners of larger vehicles pay $40.
Those fees would double under the MVA plan, but motorists who sell their cars before the second year of the two-year registration term begins would receive a 50 percent refund when they turn in their tags.
Now here's the tricky part. The first year the biennial registration goes into effect, the state would reap a one-time $48 million windfall.
Remember: Fees aren't really being raised but they would be collected earlier. This results in a "float" during the first year, not unlike a landlord collecting a one-month deposit with the first-month's rent.
Under the state's transportation funding formula, about 30 percent of highway user fees are forwarded to county and municipal governments. Baltimore alone would reap about $7 million more to spend next year on transportation-related programs.
The plan is not without complications, however. Registration renewal time also provides the state with an opportunity to check on such things as whether motorists have insurance, outstanding repair orders or unpaid parking tickets.
For instance, about 100 jurisdictions within the state -- from towns on the Eastern Shore to the University of Maryland's campus police -- depend on the MVA to flag registrations when motorists pile up parking violations. The MVA causes about $1.2 million in back tickets to be collected in Baltimore each year.
To counter those flaws in the two-year system, MVA officials said they will ask the legislature to give them authority to suspend the registrations of chronically delinquent parking scofflaws between renewals.
The agency also expects to rely more on investigators to track down drivers who have lost their insurance coverage.
Mr. Rickert said he is confident that the general public would welcome the changes.
A recent statewide survey of MVA customers found that 81 percent liked the concept of biennial registration.
"They see a benefit to less frequent transactions and better service," Mr. Rickert said.