Dunleavy budget proposes shutting down six DMV offices across Alaska

A building entrance e
Division of Motor Vehicles office in Haines, Alaska. (Photo courtesy of State of Alaska, Division of Motor Vehicles)

The state Division of Motor Vehicles office in Haines is among a half-dozen rural branches on the chopping block in Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget. The administration has suggested Haines residents travel to Juneau — by ferry — so the state can save on employees and offices.

Gov. Dunleavy’s budget rolled out earlier this month proposes saving money but eliminating state jobs and lease expenses by shuttering six DMVs: Haines, Tok, Valdez, Eagle River, Homer and Delta Junction.

Juneau Democratic Rep. Sarah Hannan, who represents the Upper Lynn Canal, called the plan “ridiculous.”

“This is the accounting shuffle of ‘we’re saving money.’ But who’s the royal we?” Canal asked.

She said whatever dollars the state saves in the short-term, it’s passing the bill to rural communities.

“You’re saving money in the DMV line item of space rental or, you know, you no longer need that office, you no longer heat it,” Hannan said. “But it’s not saving the state any money, because every one of those services that are needed is still needed. And in fact, you know, it’s cost-shifting.”

For residents of those six communities, it adds a burden of time and money, she said. For Tok residents, it’s over 200 miles to Fairbanks. If you live in Valdez, it’s about 120 miles to the nearest office in Glenallen.

But at least there are roads. Haines residents have to ferry or fly to Juneau and then stay there at least overnight. In March, it will be a week between ferries. The cost of food, hotel and missed work adds up.

Do urban DMV offices have the capacity to take on thousands of new customers? DMV headquarters in Anchorage did not respond to questions on Monday.

Hannan said that beyond the difficulty for DMV customers, these changes also pull money out of rural Alaska.

“Every time this administration has looked at cuts, I think about jobs in communities,” she said. “I have no idea what the pay schedule starts at for a DMV clerk. But it’s a job in that community. And by closing it down, it means we’re not only cutting out a service, but we’re moving money out of a local economy that has a purpose and a goal. And it should be there.”

Closing the six offices will eliminate six jobs from the state’s payroll. In the case of Haines, it will also eliminate the cost of leasing office space in the downtown Gateway building.

The governor’s budget proposal is just that — a proposal. It will be up to lawmakers how much to allocate to the Division of Motor Vehicles when they convene in the Capitol in the new year.