This photo shows a sign outside the Division of Motor Vehicles office in Juneau. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

This photo shows a sign outside the Division of Motor Vehicles office in Juneau. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Closing an Alaska DMV office has a cost beyond dollars

Closing state-operated DMV offices hurts seniors, disable people and people with lower incomes.

  • By Peter Zuyus
  • Monday, February 8, 2021 11:07am
  • Opinion

By Peter Zuyus

When DMV offices are closed, the consequences are dramatic, and when adding private DMV offices to the mix, they are discriminatory and financially debilitating for many.

The requirement for a driver’s license, vehicle or vessel registration, title and tag and other Division of Motor Vehicles-related items are mandatory, they are not optional.

The state of Alaska has a fee structure in place to acquire these mandated requirements. When the Department of Administration closes a DMV office and awards a private DMV company the right to process your mandated paperwork, you still pay full fees to the state. The private entity is given authority to charge its own unregulated “convenience fee.” The “convenience fee” of at least $25 per transaction (in some cases over $100) plus a 3% credit card fee. This often amounts to hundreds of dollars. The fee is per transaction, not per visit.

There are many other terms for a fee to pay a fee: poll tax, unregulated private DMV tax, the vig (you must pay the vig, and you must pay the fee ), DMV toll (The price you pay, to pay the price you must).

Why is the Department of Administration doing this? The Alaska DMVs are a positive source of revenue for the state, therefore the closures must have an ulterior reason and motive. Politics? Personal agenda? But certainly not logic or to benefit Alaskans.

Alaskans are being forced to travel great distances or pay high “convenience fees” to pay a mandated fee? And who gets hurt?

Why should you be forced to share your personal information with a private company and its employees to access DMV services?

Senior citizens and disabled Alaskans will still be mandated to appear in person.

Senior citizens, disabled Alaskans, rural Alaskans, Alaska Natives and lower income Alaskans will be subject to fees, they cannot afford, with no choice.

Any Alaskan without internet service (about 30% of seniors do not have internet service, according to Pew Research Center) must appear in person. So will every Alaskan who does not have a credit card. Who will pay for their travel? Add that to the vig or who pays cash for services.

The closure of state-operated DMV offices is a direct discrimination against seniors, Alaskans with disabilities and based on income.

In 2015 the State of Alabama attempted the same DMV closure, and it was sued by the Federal Department of Transportation for discrimination and forced to stop the closures.

“Driver license offices offer essential services to the American people, including providing thousands in Alabama with a method of identification,” said former Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “It is critical that these services be free of discrimination, and serve the people of the state fairly and equally.”

Likewise the Texas legislature forced its own department of motor vehicles to reverse its closure citing the actions as discriminatory.

These proposed closures of Alaska DMV offices are not only discriminatory, but also immoral in their treatment of seniors, the disabled and all Alaska citizens.

And finally, who benefits from the DMV closures?

Not the seniors of Alaska. Not the state of Alaska. Not Alaskans with disabilities. Not lower-income Alaskans. Not rural Alaskans Not Native Alaskans. Not fired DMV employees or their families. Not the communities served. Not the bank accounts of Alaskan.s Not any Alaskan.

Who Does Benefit?

The Department of Administration that will “cost-shift” DMV revenue to increase the bureaucracy of the Department of Administration. The “private partners of the Department of Administration” who collect the unregulated private special fee or mandatory vig from Alaskans, who have no choice. The Department of Administration that adds non-union, unnecessary administrative staff by “cost-shifting” DMV terminated employee salaries to the Commissioners budget.

How can we stop this unwarranted targeting of Seniors and other groups?

Gov. Mike Dunleavy can stand tall” and stop this travesty with the stroke of his pen.

The state Senate Finance Committee can stop this by vote.

Alaska seniors, the disabled, lower income, rural residents and Alaska Natives can help stop this by demanding the DMV offices remain open.

Left unchecked, this is only the beginning of the end of Alaska as we know it. senior citizens, the disabled, rural, lower Income and Native Alaskans will become the unwilling victims of unelected bureaucrats.

Seniors of Alaska stands with all seniors and the other groups and will continue to speak out on their behalf. Join us and say no to the closures and yes to Alaska.

Peter Zuyus is executive director of Seniors of Alaska, a retired technology executive and former chief information officer for the state of Alaska. Seniors of Alaska is a nonprofit organization consisting of seniors, established to represent Alaska senior citizen perspectives and to guarantee their equitable treatment by municipal, borough and state agencies. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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