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BMV still ducking responsibility for overcharges

Motorists uncomfortable with the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ explanation for millions of dollars in overcharges revealed earlier this year now are justified in feeling downright angry. Late Friday afternoon, the agency issued a news release announcing it was “lowering a number of fees following an independent review of its fee structure.”

In other words, the overcharges extended not just to driver’s license fees, but to dozens of other fees administered by the state agency. The BMV’s insistence that it has corrected its fee structure and will issue credits to motorists’ accounts is hardly reassuring. As the cost of the errors grows, agency officials have yet to take responsibility for overcharging customers.

“In order to simplify the administration of fees and better serve the driving public, the BMV and the governor’s office will work with the General Assembly to address this complicated statutory system and eliminate future confusion,” according to the news release. On its website, agency officials have simply posted a revised list of fees, with no explanation of its previous overcharges.

The agency’s responsibility, however, is to carry out state law, regardless of its complexity. Suggesting that the confusion emanated from legislative action is disingenuous.

A lawsuit filed in March alleged that the BMV had overcharged for 4 million driver’s licenses since 2007. The agency acknowledged in June that it has charged $3.50 more for each six-, five- and four-year standard operator’s license.

The latest disclosure reveals inflated fees for registrations, personalized plates and motorcycle endorsements on licenses. State identification cards, often used as voter ID by older Hoosiers, were priced at $14.50 instead of $13. The cost of a registration history was doubled – $16 instead of $8.

The total cost of the credits that will be issued is still unknown. There’s also the $55,000 cost of hiring an Indianapolis law firm to conduct a study, a copy of which the BMV refused to give to the Indianapolis Star, citing attorney-client privilege.

For residents who have moved out of state, there will be no credit for the overcharges as they likely won’t be conducting more business with the BMV. For Hoosiers who will receive a credit, there’s no interest to be paid on the amount of their overcharges.

State officials are eager to claim credit for tax caps, credits and refunds, some of which have created hardships for both local units of government and for schools. Whatever break they’ve given taxpayers in recent years is compromised by the additional burden created for motorists by the BMV’s errors.

It’s past time for the agency to own up to its poor performance.