HOUSTON, Texas - The Texas Department of Public Safety is closing two driver's license offices in Dallas, has trimmed hours at 11 of the state's busiest license offices and is planning to lay off 108 people to address a $14 million shortfall in the current budget and another $7 million reduction beginning with the new budget in September.
The agency quietly disclosed the steps in an email to lawmakers and their staffs two weeks ago - after the legislature ended its session, the Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday.
"We're stuck now with a severe reduction in service hours and employees at multiple centers around the state, including two here in Houston in my district, that we know are already overcrowded," Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said.
The department has a $2.4 billion budget for the upcoming two-year cycle, with about $750 million intended for border security. The driver's license division, which the Legislative Budget Board says has 230 locations around the state and 2,100 employees, is earmarked for $133 million.
Department spokesman Tom Vinger said the agency isn't allowed to use border security money for other purposes, like the driver's license division. Lawmakers also told the department its money in the upcoming budget was reduced by 4 percent.
"It's pretty alarming. We leave after sine die (adjournment), and leave (DPS) a budget of $800 million for border security, which involves essentially two border counties, and we leave $11 billion in the rainy day fund, and we have to tell people they're going to have to stand in longer lines to get a driver license," Whitmire said.
It's "unacceptable for DPS to fail to fully provide a basic public service for Texas taxpayers." Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, said.
In Houston, four large license offices, known as DPS Mega Centers - are opening at 8 a.m., 30 minutes later, and closing at 5 p.m., an hour earlier than in the past. Offices are remaining open past 5 p.m. on Tuesdays.
In the email to legislators, the agency also said its policy of serving all customers in the offices at closing time had led to significant overtime costs, although Lt. Craig Cummings, a department spokesman, said that policy would not change.
Cummings urged drivers to renew their licenses online or call the office to make an appointment for renewal.
Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said he would recommend to the department that overtime costs could be resolved by staggering the start times for people working in the offices.
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com