DMV reorganizes, recycling disappoints

San Marcos DMV office just prior to opening in September 2015/DMV

As California continues to look for ways to curb long wait times at Department of Motor Vehicle offices, state lawmakers are introducing a series of proposals to help out motorists, including one that would permit vehicle registration every two years instead of annually.

Under Senate Bill 460, the DMV’s director would be authorized to permit biennial registration beginning on Jan. 1, 2020.

Subsequent vehicle registration renewals would be required every other year after that, according to the bill.

The legislation was introduced last Thursday by State Sen. Jim Beall, who represents the Bay Area and is the chairman of the Senate Transportation and Housing committee. The committee has been working with the DMV to look for ways to ease wait times at the department’s field offices, which have long been a frequent cause for complaint among California motorists.

“We know there are systemic problems with the DMV. I’m working to tackle efficiency measures that would allow DMW employees to spend more time on customer service,” Beall said in a statement. “My bill to make registration two years rather than one, is just one idea on how to increase efficiency so the DMV can focus on core services and simplification through more automation.”

Californians lose millions of dollars in recycling fees

Skyline Recycling, 538 N. Quince St., Escondido/Skyline

California consumers lost out on at least $308 million in nickel deposits on cans and bottles in 2018, largely because it’s increasingly difficult to find a place to recycle them, according to a new report made public Thursday.

In the last five years, about 40 percent of California’s recycling centers have closed, with more than 100 closing in Los Angeles County alone. The state says 1,600 centers remain open statewide, but advocacy group Consumer Watchdog said there are still barriers to Californians finding a place to recycle and that many grocery stores won’t take back the empties.

The group’s report suggests several reforms to California’s 33-year-old recycling program, which has struggled to be profitable. Democratic state Sen. Henry Stern has also proposed changes to the program.

“Californians plunk down a nickel for their cans … but increasingly they’re only getting half that nickel back on average,” said Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court. “Consumers are losing, the environment is losing.”

The organization faults state regulators for lax oversight, saying they should more aggressively fine major retailers that won’t redeem containers or undercount the number of deposits they collect. It says the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, known as CalRecycle, should spend more money to promote recycling centers and punish companies that hoard deposits.

“Overall, the program has been highly successful, but recent years have brought challenges,” responded CalRecycle spokesman Mark Oldfield, citing broader market conditions. He said the agency is looking for ways to help increase buy-back locations but put the amount of unredeemed deposits at $272 million, which the consumer group says omits administrative fees required by law that bring the total to $308 million.

The consumer group provided an advanced copy of its report to The Associated Press.

It recommends doubling the amount of deposits to a dime for each glass or plastic bottle or aluminum can to encourage more consumers to recycle, similar to the deposits required in Oregon and Michigan.

Consumers there recycle at least nine of every 10 containers. About three in four containers are recycled in California, but that includes those redeemed by bulk haulers as well as individual consumers. California currently charges 5 cents for containers under 24 ounces and 10 cents for larger containers.

Beyond the $308 million in unclaimed deposits, the group alleges consumers are missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars more, including $200 million in deposits that go to commercial trash haulers and bulk collectors. It also cites a 2014 report from the Container Recycling Institute that shows an undercount in bottle deposits paid by consumers, though Oldfield said that number has never been substantiated.

California gambling revenue fall short of expectations

Inside The Cafe at Harrah’s Rincon Casino./File

Several times during the depths of California’s state budget woes, there were efforts to boost revenues through more gambling. Most sought to expand the kinds of games and operations already in existence — generally allowed through voter-approved amendments to the state Constitution, as far back as the 1933 ballot measure that enshrined legal wagers on horse racing.

Few efforts were as intense as those for and against the creation of tribal casinos, the subject of statewide ballot measures in 1998 and 2000. By 2003, many thought that the Native American tribes should hand over a share of the profits to state government. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who famously demanded a “fair share” of tribal gaming money during the 2003 recall election, insisted on revenue-sharing provisions in the formal agreements he signed with a number of tribes.

But a federal court sided with tribes in 2010, limiting the payments to those earmarked for helping impoverished or non-gaming tribes. A report last week by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office found what was a $330-million-a-year subsidy to California’s general fund as recently as 2016 is now down to only $3.6 million in the current fiscal year. That could fall even further as gaming agreements with 35 tribes across the state expire next year, with new deals to be negotiated by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Nor is there any serious belief that the California Lottery can do much more to boost the bottom line of public schools. Voters embraced the program in 1984, believing it would provide significant money for education and thus free up funds for other government services. Schwarzenegger suggested a securitization plan in 2008, borrowing money against future lottery revenues — an idea swiftly rejected by lawmakers. Today, even after recent improvements to entice more players, the lottery provides only around a penny of every dollar spent on education.

For voters, that doesn’t square with the promise they believed of easy government money from gambling — often made as part of an effort to balance the books with new “sin taxes” on things that include alcohol and tobacco.

“One of the challenges that we have in government sometimes is when programs are oversold, it kind of produces disappointment,” state Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) said during a legislative hearing last week on legalized gambling in California.

In part, the reason gambling is no longer seen as a budget bonanza is that the state has plenty of money — a record tax windfall, in fact, and a rapidly filling “rainy day” budget reserve.

The sports betting initiative that ran out of time last week to qualify for the 2020 ballot never found the wealthy donors needed to pay for gathering voter signatures. The kinds of powerful interests that historically promoted new gambling ideas in the state — including casino operators in Nevada and New Jersey — have largely cashed out of California politics.

The odds, it seems, are no longer in their favor.

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