TRENTON – Pressed by lawmakers to have all Motor Vehicle Commission agencies handle all transactions, rather than licenses at some and vehicles at others, the chief of the MVC made clear Monday that things are so efficient despite rampant absences that it isn’t in the plans.

Sue Fulton, the chair and chief administrator of the MVC, told the Assembly Budget Committee that although people may have to travel further to get to an agency, they rarely have to go because so many transactions can now be done online.

“To try to put all transactions back into every location would slow us down significantly,” said Fulton, who said the agency processed a record of more than 12 million transactions last year.

“From a global standpoint, you can say, ‘Well, people have to travel 15 to 20 minutes further,’” Fulton said. “But how often? Once every three, four, 12 years they make that trip. And that trip is more available to them. It’s available by appointment. They’re not standing in a long line.”

Fulton says almost all transactions can get done in a day or two, though the wait for a first driver’s permit can be 55 days. Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, D-Essex, said that needs to be fixed, maybe with extended hours and split shifts.

“We have – thank goodness, right – at this point in time a plethora of money through ARP (American Rescue Plan) funds,” said Pintor Marin, who chairs the budget committee. “If I were you, I wouldn’t be happy about having 60 days waiting for any type of transaction.”

Fulton said 35% to 40% of employees remain absent from work on any given day – better than the 55% at the height of COVID, but still much higher than the 20% before the pandemic.

“We still have people who are out on leave,” Fulton said. “We’ve been hiring aggressively to try to increase the numbers. It’s kind of gradually increasing.”

Over the last week, the MVC had to report six potential COVID outbreaks at agencies, forcing people who test positive and known close contacts into quarantine. But whole agencies are no longer being shuttered for days at a time, she said.

The agency also reports that about 82% of its staff members are vaccinated. Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, said most state departments report rates over 90%.

“Why are you doing so poorly in that? Do you have any idea?” Conaway said. “And what are you doing to get that vaccination rate up. I mean, your agency interacts with the public just about as much as any agency in the government.”

Fulton said every employee had a chance to be vaccinated on-site at work and gets time off to get the shot. She said she could consider another vaccine clinic, though it interrupts operations. She said that generally, people in professional fields or who are college-educated are more likely to get vaccinated.

“That’s not the bulk of our employees,” Fulton said. “So, they tend to fall in demographic groups that are less likely to be vaccinated.”

Assemblyman Hal Wirths, R-Sussex, said he doesn’t think Fulton is capable of fixing the MVC’s problems.

“You don’t get it. You don’t admit that there’s a problem,” Wirths said. “… I don’t know how you can solve a problem when you don’t think there is a problem with customer service.

“I’ve been in retail my whole life. I’d be thrown out on my A-S-you-know-what if I did the job you did. The customers would throw me out,” Wirths said. “I think while there’s been a lot of change that’s happened, there needs to be one big change. And I think we all know what that change is. And until that change comes, I think we’re going to continue to get these kinds of results.”

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“We’re two years into this pandemic,” he said. “You have to be able to manage people. You have to get people back to work. You have to solve these problems. They’re not being solved. And you’re not the slightest bit sympathetic to the cause. So, I have to come to the conclusion that you’re the cause.”

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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