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DMV drudgery finds an online home

Pennsylvania's plan to have residents handle all DMV matters online is part of push to shake its industrial image and improve its image as a high-tech state.

Get online, get out of line.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge said Friday that residents would be able to renew their driver's licenses, update photo IDs and complete vehicle registrations online starting May 16--the newest state initiative to reduce red tape and expenses through the Internet.

Instead of queuing at a government agency, Pennsylvanians who have Internet access and a credit card can access the secure site 24 hours a day. After verifying their identification and completing required forms, users can print temporary licenses or registrations, which are good for 15 days, from their home printers. Permanent documents would arrive in the mail within 10 days.

"Customers have told us they want access to anytime-anywhere service," Gov. Ridge said Friday during his weekly, statewide radio address. "They want the speed, convenience and security that's only available online. And we're giving it to them."

Online registration is Gov. Ridge's latest move to improve Pennsylvania's image as a high-tech state and erase its tarnish as the home to Rustbelt burgs such as Pittsburgh and Allentown. The effort is part of a growing initiative among Midwest states and East Coast states to recruit high-tech companies and retain technology workers who might defect to tech meccas such as California's Silicon Valley, Seattle, or Austin, Texas.

It is also a way to slash costs and red tape that the state governments must process. According to the Pennsylvania Transportation Department, Pennsylvania is home to 10 million vehicle owners and more than 8 million licensed drivers--all of whom must now stand in line at local government branches to get licenses and registrations.

Although Gov. Ridge has been loudly touting online efforts as a way to make his administration "friction-free," Pennsylvania joins a growing number of states that are moving routine documentation online.

Michigan has sold $150,000 worth of surplus material, unclaimed property and items seized in drug raids in online auctions since August. The auction site gets 500,000 hits a week, as bargain hunters snap up items ranging from pianos and motorcycles to a box of 1,000 disposable razors.

Michigan campers made 19,422 campground reservations online since August, amounting to nearly a quarter of all who made reservations overall. The state's Department of Natural Resources has sold almost 11,000 turkey license applications and 4,000 fishing licenses at a special site for outdoor registrations.

One in three Iowans filed state income tax returns electronically, and drivers will soon be able to renew licenses and registration online.

Last month, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack called on Iowans to brainstorm for even more ways that the state can deliver services online. No idea is too far out or wacky for Iowa's new "e-government services" strategy, he said at a news conference with Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson.

In March, Pennsylvania became the eighth state to allow laid-off workers to file for unemployment compensation online. Approximately 40 percent of unemployment claimants in the state have a home PC with an Internet connection, said Alan Williamson, Labor and Industry Deputy Secretary for unemployment compensation.

But e-governments aren't universally popular.

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft outlined a sweeping e-government proposal in 1999, which resulted in electronic tax payment, online vehicle and boat registrations and other online documentation. The proposal called for another $17.5 million during the next two years to transfer additional services to the Internet.

But the proposal died in late April under a substitute budget bill introduced by House Republicans. Politicians want to increase funding for primary and secondary education by $1.4 billion during the next two years, and they said that e-government's $17.5 million tab could be better put to use in schools.