There’s more to the controversy about Missouri’s vehicle and driver’s license records that a squabble among bureaucrats and a couple of businesses.

Whatever the motivation, the Department of Revenue has tried to pull a maneuver that state law specifically forbids. Public records need to be available not just theoretically. Government has an obligation to make those record available at reasonable cost and with ready access.

The Department of Revenue erred in thinking it could just pay for a new computer system by jacking up the cost of driver’s and vehicle records. Raising the cost of providing a single record from $1.25 to $7 is mostly an annoyance – unless you need more than one or two. The department also did away with bulk discounts that companies such as CarFax depend upon. That will directly affect customers down the line.

The department is busy losing in court over this. The Sunshine Law is clear, although the department goes so far as to claim that the Sunshine Law doesn’t apply here and that it’s free to decide on its own what reasonable fee is.

What’s at stake is clear enough: The government isn’t supposed to say, sure, you can have that report or budget or whatever you’re asking for, but it’s $1 a page, and it’s 300 pages, and please pay up front. That sort of thing is meant to dissuade the public from getting at public information. This case might be about paying for new computers, but it’s same result and would lead to a poor precedent should the Revenue Department prevail.