SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Illinois lawmakers want to end late fees for license plate renewal stickers after some residents said they felt blindsided when the state stopped mailing reminders to save money.
"I know a lot of people, my constituents, that missed the deadline, had to pay fines. It's not fair. It's something we should definitely address," Democratic Senate President John Cullerton said.
The pot of tardy-renewal cash -- expected to keep growing for the foreseeable future -- is the latest twist in Illinois' interminable budget standoff, which has squeezed state agencies and forced them to find creative ways to stay afloat while waiting for Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-led Legislature to finally pass a spending plan.
The decision from the secretary of state's office to stop the reminders, which the agency says was done out of necessity, has dramatic results: The revenue from the $20 late fines has more than doubled for the first two months of this year, according to figures provided to The Associated Press.
Drivers paid more than $2.7 million in fines from Jan. 1 through Feb. 22. Last year, the state collected about $1.5 million in fines for those two months.
"Surprise costs are not fair for families who have to plan their household budget and are struggling to get by," said Rep. Jaime Andrade, a Chicago Democrat who introduced legislation this month to suspend the fines until the state has a budget.
The proposal is scheduled for its first committee hearing Wednesday.
The number of people who've already been fined this year illustrates just how much Illinois residents depend on the government for routine tasks. Last year, 63,147 people were fined for late renewals from January through Feb. 22. This year, it was 136,101 during the same span.
The secretary of state's office isn't the only agency not mailing reminders due to the budget gridlock, either. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is no longer mailing reminders for vehicle emission tests -- a necessary step for license plate renewals. However, the secretary of state is temporarily allowing license plate renewals for vehicle owners who haven't taken the emissions test.
The secretary of state's office stopped mailing renewal reminders in October to save an estimated $450,000 a month on postage during the state's budget stalemate, which has gone on since July 1.
Because of a 30-day grace period, the first fines for those who didn't get reminders were levied in January. The agency is required to fine people who fail to renew their plate stickers after the grace period expires, and the money goes into the state's general revenue fund.
"People are being penalized because of our inefficiency and that's not right," said Rep. Jack Franks, a Democrat from Woodstock who is co-sponsoring the legislation.
Henry Haupt, a spokesman for the secretary of state, says the agency supports the measure to suspend the late fines.
Franks said lawmakers also should consider returning the money to motorists who didn't get a reminder.
There's no agreement in sight for the current fiscal year budget -- and the next fiscal year budget is beginning to loom. The state already faces a $5 billion budget deficit this budget year.
Car owners hit with the late fees said they were surprised.
"We become creatures of habit," said Leon Fields, a 68-year-old Glenwood resident. "When I see the light bill, I pay it. You live by that kind of thing,"
At the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, officials moved Tuesday to a paperless renewal system for psychologists, nursing home administrators, veterinarians and other specialists.
While the move had been long in the works as a cost-saving measure, agency spokesman Terry Horstman said "due to financial constraints, due to the budget impasse, we we're moving faster than we would've otherwise."
Because it's a new initiative, he said, the agency is "moving through it with leniency."