The state Division of Motor Vehicles unveiled details of a major expansion of services Thursday, tweaking a preliminary proposal that had created a controversy among some lawmakers.
Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb said the expansion leaves all current offices open, increases the total number of offices across the state from 88 to 92 and drastically expands the hours of operation for some 40 counties.
The change, expected to cost about $6 million the first year and $4 million every year going forward, was called for by Gov. Scott Walker's 2011-13 budget and was meant to address an increase in demand for photo IDs in the wake of the state's new law requiring voters to show ID at the polls.
"This is going to make it much easier for people," Gottlieb said. "It is a massive expansion of services to the public."
The plan announced Thursday differed markedly from the one first unveiled last month, which called for closing as many as 16 offices while expanding office hours elsewhere. That proposal was immediately panned by some as unfairly targeting Democratic areas.
State Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson, was particularly angry about the proposed closing of the DMV office in his district. He accused Gov. Scott Walker's administration of playing politics with necessary services.
After release of the new plan Thursday, which closed no existing offices, Jorgensen said it was outrageous that Walker administration appointees would even consider shutting down the DMV center in his district.
"With little if any cost savings to the taxpayer, I had to wonder if politics were in play and if their real goal was to disenfranchise my constituents from our democratic process," he said.
Easy access to DMV offices became vital with the passage of the photo ID law. If government makes it difficult to reach those offices, some residents could be blocked from voting.
Gottlieb said Thursday that politics was never a consideration. He said DOT tweaked the original plan after feedback from lawmakers.
"We listened to the concerns of legislators and others impacted by the potential changes," he said.
The new times and locations, expected to begin in late January 2012, increase office hours by about 32,000 a year.
Walker's budget included a provision that at least 20 hours per week of driver's license, skills testing and ID card services be available in a cost-effective manner in every Wisconsin county.
The expansion includes four new locations for service centers: Viroqua (Vernon County), Alma (Buffalo County), South Eau Claire/Fall Creek (Eau Claire County) and Keshena (Menominee County).