Nixon signs bills opening fee office contracts to bidding

JEFFERSON CITY | Contracts to run Missouri fee offices must be opened for competitive bids under legislation signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Jay Nixon.

Two bills formalize and make permanent actions taken by Nixon earlier this year to end the practice of awarding offices based on political connections.

Residents visit fee offices to register vehicles and renew drivers’ licenses. For decades, they’ve served as patronage plums granted to political supporters by governors from both parties. Some of the busier offices can yield six-figure profits.

“We put these offices up for competitive bid as we would any other government contract, and made efficiency and service to the customer the key criteria,” Nixon, a Democrat, said in a statement. “In signing these bills into law today, I’m proud to know that these reforms will be in place even after I leave office.”

The legislation was sponsored by a Republican, state Rep. Ryan Silvey, of Kansas City, and passed with broad, bipartisan support.

Nixon signed the bills on Wednesday in Springfield, at a fee office that was recently awarded to a non-profit community services organization.

The new law, which takes effect Aug. 28, requires the Department of Revenue to set up a system for soliciting bids and awarding contracts. The department created such a system earlier in January at Nixon’s direction.

The law also requires that preference be given to non-profit groups and local governments.

The bill signing comes amid accusations that the Nixon administration has continued to award fee offices to political allies despite the new competitive bidding process.

Earlier this week, state Rep. Ray Salva, a Sugar Creek Democrat, raised questions about the winning bid for his hometown office, which went to a man whose family donated more than $11,000 to Nixon’s 2008 gubernatorial campaign.

Republicans say at least nine of the 28 offices awarded so far under the competitive bidding process have gone to Nixon supporters.

Nixon has denied political influence over the contracts and said the winning bidders simply put together stronger proposals than their competitors.

The scoring system that determines winners is “value neutral” and “based on merit,” Nixon told The Star earlier this week.