Editorial: BMV is right to leave past behind, close more branches

Keywords Editorials / Opinion

Indiana’s license branches have come a long way since the days when they were part of a political patronage system that generated money for the political party of the governor.

But that legacy built an unrealistic expectation that branches should be located in every little town and burg throughout the state no matter how much of a money-losing proposition that might be in modern times.

Back in the day, iron-fisted political party chairmen could wring money out of such a saturated system by running branches out of their cramped garages to avoid leasing office space and offering paltry wages to eager party volunteers.

The result was an inefficient operation with long lines and lousy customer service that’s still cursed by any Hoosier who ever had to experience it.

Thankfully, Gov. Robert Orr began the hard work in 1986 to modernize the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles and remove it from the seedy grip of political patronage.

Over the years, that has meant moving license branches to strip malls and other commercial locations with higher rents and increasing worker pay to professionalize the staff.

Today, a visit to the license branch is often painless and highly efficient, thanks to the consolidation efforts of Gov. Frank O’Bannon and the businesslike approaches of Gov. Mitch Daniels. And with the advent of technology, a trip to the license branch often isn’t needed at all because many transactions can now be conducted online.

Still, there’s a law on the books that requires at least one license branch to be located in each of Indiana’s 92 counties. And the state continues to operate many more than that because any time there is an effort to close a small-town branch, the local state legislator responds like a mother hen trying to protect its young.

Lots of work has been done over the past 30 years to cull the number of branches from 189 in 1988 to 124 today. Some branches have been replaced with kiosks that allow Hoosiers to renew vehicle registrations and driver’s licenses.

But it’s clear that more trimming needs to be done for the sake of efficiency and financial responsibility. And we applaud the BMV for making some recent moves in that direction.

As the Indiana Capital Chronicle reported, the BMV has slated the Nappanee branch for closure later this month. After a community outcry, the Alexandria branch has staved off closure until at least 2024.

One state fiscal leader in the 1990s estimated that if the BMV were truly operated like a business there would only be 30 branches across the state. After all, not every community with a town square has a grocery store, a bank or a pharmacy and folks seem to manage.

We don’t think the cuts should be that deep; no one would have the political will to do it anyway.

And generally, we believe government should stay as close to the people as possible—but not out of a tradition that comes at an unreasonable cost to taxpayers and at the expense of efficiency.•

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