Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, talks with Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka Tuesday morning following a House Administration Committee Finance Subcommittee meeting. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, talks with Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka Tuesday morning following a House Administration Committee Finance Subcommittee meeting. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

‘Sexy’ mortar: Committee hears about department’s far-reaching impact and proposed budget

REAL IDs and bar dues factor into the plans

The Department of Administration is the mortar that holds together the brick wall made up of other state departments, said Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka during a House Administration Committee Finance Subcommittee meeting.

Tshibaka dove into the extended metaphor during a Tuesday morning presentation of her department’s budget requests for Fiscal Year 2021.

“When you look at a brick wall, you don’t look at a brick wall and go, ‘Check out that mortar,” Tshibaka said. “You’re not supposed. But if there was no mortar, what would happen to all those bricks? If we do our job really well, then the brick look really good. They’re strong, they’re sturdy, they’re standing upright, they’re holding up the state. If we don’t do our job, well then, that’s what our discussion in this committee and other committees are about.”

[Capitol Live: Commisioner provides departmental overview]

Tshibaka said too much mortar and too many askew bricks may be part of that wall.

She said correcting that requires building trust, centralizing government, achieving cost savings, increasing efficiency and encouraging innovation and modernization.

Committee Chair Rep. Jennifer Johnston, R-Anchorage, thanked Tshibaka for the creative description. Johnston said she’d been trying to make the Department of Administration “sexy” for years.

“Mortar isn’t something that came to mind,” Johnston said.

In the presentation, Tshibaka, budget analyst Alexei Painter and administrative services director Brad Ewing, outlined some of the specific requests in the Department of Administration’s proposed budget and some key issues facing the department.

Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage; Rep. Jennifer Johnston, R-Anchorage and Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, listen to Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka Tuesday morning during a House Administration Committee Finance Subcommittee meeting. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage; Rep. Jennifer Johnston, R-Anchorage and Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, listen to Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka Tuesday morning during a House Administration Committee Finance Subcommittee meeting. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

Overall, Ewing said the department’s proposed budget of just over $358.7 million is 4% — $14.9 million — smaller than last year and includes 34 fewer positions. However, the proposed budget doesn’t necessarily mean blanket cuts for every division within the department.

Tshibaka said the proposed budget includes more money for the Office of Public Advocacy to allow for travel and to cover bar dues for licensed attorneys.

“That’s going to be important for recruitment and retention for our attorneys, so we can manage this vacancy issue, and this attrition issue that we’ve been having,” Tshibaka said.

A full payment of 2020 active bar dues is $660, according to the Alaska Bar Association’s active dues form.

“I think it’s a great idea to pay the bar dues,” said Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage.

REAL IDs, new forms of identification that meet a set of federal requirements, were a subject that came up repeatedly throughout the meeting.

Painter identified the rollout of the IDs that will become required to fly on commercial airlines on Oct. 1 as one of the key issues the Department of Administration faces.

Multiple representatives, including Andi Story, D-Juneau, asked how demand for the IDs may affect the Division of Motor Vehicles and weather an uptick in employment may be required to meet needs.

Tshibaka said the matter will be addressed in detail during an upcoming meeting, but did offer some insight into Department of Administration plans.

“We will be setting up REAL ID lines soon to take that traffic separately,” she said.

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