Nixon says he will end patronage for Revenue Department fee offices

Friday, December 12, 2008 | 5:41 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri's next governor announced Friday he was giving up one of the biggest "spoils" at the disposal of a governor — Revenue Department fee offices.

"We will end the system of political patronage for fee license offices," Nixon said in a telephone conference call. "Beginning in January, we will put every fee license office in the state, every contract office up for bid, and we will award new contracts to those who will offer the most efficient and effective service for the people of Missouri."

Under the fee-office system, the governor awards contracts to local businesses and organizations to provide a variety of Revenue Department services including auto registration renewals. The holder of a fee-office contract is allowed to charge an extra fee to cover the costs of operating the office and provide a profit. In the past, some governors have used fee offices as a reward to political supporters.

Nixon said Friday that when he becomes governor, the fee-office contracts will be awarded through a point scale. Bidders will earn points for items such as efficient operations and customer service, personnel qualifications, financial stability and commitment to remain open beyond normal business office hours.

While those who contribute to political campaigns are not exempt from bidding, those political actions will not add points to their total, Nixon said.

Of the 183 contracted license fee offices, 12 are currently awarded under competitive bid. Gov. Matt Blunt began making the transition to competitive bids following a federal inquiry in 2006.

The process of awarding contracts will take about five to seven weeks, and transitions will occur in clusters after that.

Tina Hervey, communications director of the Missouri Republican Party, issued a two-sentence response to Nixon's announcement: "Governor-elect Nixon has yet again proven that he talks the talk but cannot walk the walk. Hopefully Nixon will continue to hold fee offices to high customer service standards as Governor Blunt has done and only time will tell how many Nixon contributors and supporters are rewarded."

Hervey was not available for further comment.

Blunt issued a statement that "applaud(s) Gov.-elect Jay Nixon for announcing his intention to continue this open and transparent process."

The Blunt administration closed many state-run offices in 2005 since those offices were costing taxpayers over $7 million each year, the statement said.

Some of these offices were transferred into contract agent-run offices. The Columbia Branch Office was the first of the 11 state-run offices to be transformed in 2005. Scott Atkins was appointed as the agent.

Other offices that were made into contract ones are located in cities including Jefferson City, Joplin, Springfield, Independence, St. Joseph and St. Louis.

Nixon also announced his goal of moving much of the license-renewal process online.

"We must do more to increase the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the license process," Nixon said. "That's where the Internet comes in. In the end, our ultimate goal will be to move as much of this business online as possible. This will save time and money for taxpayers and reduce overhead expenses for the state."

Missouri currently has about 0.5 percent of eligible transactions available online as compared to Arizona at 45 percent and Virginia at 28.8 percent.

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