As Calif. Nears Budget Deal, DMV Under Stress

California lawmakers appear to be on the verge of a deal to fix the state's massive $42 billion budget deficit. As the state runs out of money, it has closed many of its offices twice a month, resulting in unpaid furloughs for 200,000 state workers, including those at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Outside of Washington the biggest financial mess in the country is in California. Now the state's lawmakers appear to have settled on a plan to fix that state's $42 billion budget deficit. They've been deadlocked for months leaving California to shut down some state offices two days a month to save money. And it has been painful as NPR's, Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN: California's budget crisis is massive. But it didn't hit home for some people until they showed up at the DMV. Think about it - what's worse than going to the Department of Motor Vehicles, getting there and finding it's closed.

Mr. MARIO LAPAZ(ph): You mean you kind of go in the strike, I mean…

Ms. LANA CART BRAXTON: Strikes, (unintelligible) what is it I mean, what is it…

KAHN: Mario Lapaz came to the DMV office in downtown Los Angeles to pay his vehicle registration fees. There, he ran into a dozen state workers including Lana Cart Braxton(ph) picketing outside the closed office.

Mr. LAPAZ: And no one who repay our tickets for doing this.

Ms. CART BRAXTON: We're ready to serve you higher but the governor will not allow us to work…

Mr. LAPAZ: F the government.

KAHN: Cart Braxton says she's used to getting grief from customers, but this is frustrating.

Ms. BRAXTON: It's not our fault. Why are we meant to pay for their impasse, you know.

KAHN: That impasse is between Republican lawmakers who don't want to raise taxes and Democrats who are standing fast against drastic budget cuts. This week the stand out heated up. The governor said he would send layoff notices to 20,000 state workers if the two sides could hash it out. The state controller stopped sending out California tax refunds and counties were told they would stop getting money to pay for an array of social programs. The two sides now appear to have the makings of a compromised budget deal, but the full legislature would still have to approve it. Governor Schwarzenegger's spokesman, Aaron McLear says everyone better hurry up, the state is running out of money.

Mr. AARON MCLEAR (Spokesman, Governor's Office): Every California family and business is cutting back right now. California state government has a responsibility to do the same. When you have a $42 billion deficit and you're talking about increasing taxes on Californians, you're talking about cutting programs for Californians. Every bit you can save in state spending absolutely counts.

KAHN: Schwarzenegger says the furloughs will save California $1.3 billion. And closing state offices sure got the public's attention, especially closing the DMV, a place that almost everyone have to visit some time.

Unidentified Person: Now serving G092 at window number 19.

KAHN: Statewide wait times at all DMV offices are up by 15 percent.

Ms. KAREN STADEN (Clerk, Department of Motor Vehicles Office): Good Morning. Is your address correct?

Unidentified Woman: Yes it is.

KAHN: At this DMV office in Culver City, long lines are moving, thanks to Karen Staden(ph) - seriously, the nicest clerk I've ever met. She's been unhappy about the furloughs, but she says she is also grateful.

Ms. STADEN: I'm happy I still have a job. You know, my attitude is of gratitude - I still have a job. And of course it's going to be hard because even two days is a lot of money out of our check.

KAHN: Staden may be stuck with a lighter paycheck, and customers will be stuck in long lines. One proposal being hashed up between the governor and state legislators would maintain the current two day a month furlough, well into the next year.

Unidentified Person: Now serving G093.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

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