The Office of Motor Vehicles bears the brunt of the blame for an administrative fiasco, but this one has many fathers, including members of the Legislature and Gov. Bobby Jindal.
The OMV foolishly sent out 1.2 million notices of “delinquent debt” on Oct. 13, seeking to harass people into paying fines for what the agency called auto insurance lapses — going back beyond 1986 in some cases.
If this sounds like a desperate grab for money by the agency, it is. Unfortunately, “desperate grab for money” has been an operating principle of the Jindal administration for years.
With the state budget in a mess, legislators as well as the administration have looked for any possible way to grab cash, balancing the books with an array of gimmicks, raids on trust funds and other devices — including collecting old debts that, in a sensibly managed private business, would have been written off as uncollectable or not worth the trouble.
The mass mailing has tarnished a considerable accomplishment of the administration and Col. Mike Edmonson, of State Police, who oversees the OMV. The agency has been doing a grand job of making it easier for consumers who have to go to OMV offices and made it much easier to do OMV business online.
That’s now overshadowed by thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of angry folks. Many of them, as OMV records indicate, probably did allow their insurance to lapse and continued driving; that’s what the fines were originally intended to prevent. But many of these people sold or gave away cars, allowing the insurance to lapse, and have — or had — the paperwork to prove they don’t owe a fine.
Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon tells it like it is: “For years, the state has failed to collect fines. Now, years later, the average citizen likely does not have the documents to prove that they had insurance one way or the other. No one keeps proof of insurance from a decade ago.”
Edmonson said the agency would not pursue some portion of the claims, those going back before 2006 for which the agency doesn’t have a stronger case. Well, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 were good reasons, we think, for eliminating all those claims.
Edmonson’s concession, and not much of one, is not likely to appease those upset by collection letters for forgotten paperwork.
Threatening hundreds of thousands of people with references to collection agencies is going to provide another reason for voters to be unhappy with the Jindal administration, and it’s going to bog down the OMV employees for months. We don’t know if it is going to provide much money for the agency, or if it will actually get uninsured drivers to get a policy, but we know it’s going to set some kind of election-year record for an administrative fiasco of these dimensions.