Alaska is big! Our physical size and scope dominate every other state in the Union, and that presents uniquely big challenges for us. Alaskans are in the unenviable position of having to choose between the conveniences we have grown accustomed to and the services we need the government to provide.
As commissioner, I believe it is the government’s job to ensure our children and grandchildren don’t pay for today’s government tomorrow. It’s a job I take very seriously.
Despite all the challenges and tragedies that COVID-19 brought to our state, it also brought us opportunity for improvement. The practical need for physical distance forced the State to prioritize digitized services, limiting the number of times Alaskans have to come into government offices in person. Many government services that were once done in person are now able to happen online.
For example, the pandemic encouraged many DMV customers to do business online. That means Alaskans need to come to the DMV only to process five primary transactions that require in-person visits. These are required once in a lifetime, like your original driver license, or occur once every 7½-15 years, depending on the transaction.
Since so many DMV transactions are available online, and so few are required to be done in person, the State of Alaska is in active discussions to transition the Homer DMV from an exclusively state-funded operation to a public-private partnership. The State also is pursuing the possibility of expanding DMV partnerships in other areas of Alaska as well.
There is no reason to duplicate government effort, especially in areas with potential DMV partners in the community or ready access to DMV providers in nearby towns for a once-a decade need.
The good news is, rather than close the DMV in Homer and other areas, we have options to improve the budget situation for the State, create economic opportunity in the community, while also providing convenient access to in-person services to Alaskans. Government cannot be reluctant to partner with local businesses, and we should not underestimate the benefits these partnerships will provide to local economies.
Innovation through public-private partnerships — especially in local communities — is good for all Alaskans. These sort of public-private partnerships are integral to the economic development of Alaska, and are the kind of innovative, cost-saving ideas we need to pursue in order to be fiscally responsible as a state.
This isn’t empty rhetoric for me. As a born-and-raised Alaskan, I care a lot about the Alaska we will leave to our children and grandchildren. We need to leverage technology and innovation to survive new challenges. We need to be willing to try things that are new because they benefit our state — and not resist them because they are different.
I know we are up for the challenge.
Kelly Tshibaka, whose parents live on the Kenai Peninsula, is the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration.