The House subcommittee that oversees the Department of Administration’s budget today voted to reject the administration’s proposal to close six Department of Motor Vehicles offices.
The proposal was pitched by Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka as a cost-savings measure that would have seen DMV offices located in Homer, Haines, Tok, Delta Junction, Valdez and Eagle River closed with the hope that private companies would replace them. It would have saved less than $500,000 annually.
The plan faced enormous pushback from communities and legislators. Those private companies aren’t regulated, currently charge as much as 100% what the state does for some services and can’t even provide every service that the DMV offers, meaning that people would still need to travel hours (and in Haines’ case either take the road through Canada or catch a plane or boat to another DMV office) to the closest DMV office. It also didn’t help that one of the private companies that stood to benefit from the plan is owned by a Dunleavy administration official.
“I think we’ve heard clearly from the public that the savings this would have to the state would clearly be on the backs of our citizens,” Juneau Democratic Rep. Andi Story said during the hearing. “I think it’s not the right move to make to save some dollars.”
Opposition to the closures of the rural offices has gained bipartisan support in recent weeks as public backlash to the closures has grown, particularly as legislative hearings put the problems with the proposal in clearer relief.
“I was looking at this as a budgetary thing. I believe that our private DMV services can be highly successful, but when we got down to the fact that we’re requiring a state document in areas that wouldn’t have an option, that was a challenge I did not feel was a right move to make,” said Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer. “The conversations in this committee helped me come to that conclusion.”
The committee packaged together the closures of the Homer, Haines, Cordova, Delta Junction and Valdez voted them down unanimously. The voted separately on the proposal to close the Eagle River DMV office because of the community’s proximity to Anchorage, voting 5-4 with Republicans arguing that its closure would not be as severely felt by Eagle River.
The vote is part of the budget subcommittee work where a panel reviews the budget of each department and the changes proposed by Gov. Dunleavy. The votes here are eventually forwarded on to the House Finance Committee to collect into a single budget that can further be amended before it’s voted on and advanced to the Senate for consideration.
After the vote, Vance said she wanted the public to know that Department of Administration Commissioner Tshibaka had pledged to keeping the offices open, committing to not pursuing the closure through the veto process.
“The administration has told me that they will not close the DMVs without the approval of the Legislature,” she said. “While they may have that authority, they are respecting the fact that we represent the people and they will honor our wishes.”
The next Bill necessary to protect rural DMV offices from closure is HB 137. It puts control of DMV rural office closures under control of the legislature.