The Senate Finance Committee forwarded two commissioner-designees Tuesday, January 22, for consideration of the full legislature. One is more prepared than the other.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy appointed John Quick as the Commissioner of Administration, despite his light qualifications, comprehensively researched by Dermot Cole.
“I’m very excited to serve Governor Dunleavy,” Quick said Tuesday. “He’s a very strong leader, a man of integrity, and I think that there’s a new leader in town. I think people are excited about that.”
Quick is one of several Dunleavy appointees with little to no experience working in the fields they have been appointed to administer.
Another is Adam Crum, appointed commissioner of the Department of Health & Social Services (DHSS). Crum has exclusively worked in construction training, even while completing his master’s degree in Public Health.
Crum’s confirmation hearing will be Wednesday in the Senate Health & Social Services Committee. Public testimony is scheduled.
In considering Quick, Senate Finance held a joint confirmation hearing with the Senate State Affairs Committee.
“To me there are three keys to a well-run organization: People, Product and Process,” reads the resumé Quick submitted to both committees. “Find the right people, deliver the best product or service, and be willing to focus on the process needed to improve.”
Quick earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Northwest University, a “regionally accredited, Christian institution” in Kirkland, Washington.
While getting his master’s degree from the Wayland Baptist University Graduate School of Business, Quick thought it was time to get a job, he told Senate Finance.
Quick became regional director of Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian aid organization that has tied assistance to religious messages.
Franklin Graham, the group’s head, has called Islam “wicked, violent, and not of the same god” as Christianity. Graham nearly violated an international agreement during the Gulf War when Samaritan’s Purse tried to distribute Arabic-language Bibles in Saudi Arabia.
Quick started a café and frozen yogurt shop in the Puget Sound area before founding a flexible work space business where companies could share office space as needed. He also sold supplements on Amazon under the Island Vibrance label, he told Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage).
Quick Suggests Efficiencies, But Has Few Specifics
Sen. Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks) noted that the Department of Administration (DOA) is a $344 million department.
“I go through resumés all the time,” Kawasaki told Quick. “I just need to know how your experience as an owner or CEO of these businesses actually will help you guide the department?”
“Anywhere I’ve gone in my life, I’ve tried to outperform what maybe my critics or audience thinks that I can do. I’m somebody who likes to take on big challenges,” Quick responded.
Quick pointed to his experience as chief of staff to Kenai Peninsula Borough (KPB) Mayor Charlie Pierce, a position he held since 2017. Quick said he met Pierce while serving as CEO of Empire Consulting.
“We started the year with $5M in deficit spending,” Quick’s resumé says of the KPB, “but with a laser-focus on finding efficiencies, we ended the fiscal year only $400,000 in deficit.”
It is hard to know where Quick is getting the figures for which he takes credit.
According to KPB budget documents, there was a $6 million general fund deficit in FY 2018. The general fund deficit for FY 2019 is $2 million, not $400,000 as Quick claims. If all dollars are considered, the deficit is $3 million.
“Efficiencies” is a term Quick employed often Tuesday. He had few concrete answers to senators’ questions about the DOA budget, instead saying he was considering a variety of consolidations. He told the joint committee that he would have more ideas in the coming months.
However, Quick did offer that the State could start digitally signing documents to save paper.
“A populist opinion is that everything can be privatized, and that it will be not only as efficient, but dramatically reduce the cost of state government,” Sen. Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna) said.
How will Quick evaluate whether privatization will actually reduce costs, Micciche asked.
Again, Quick said he would have answers in a couple months.
Lukewarm Support for Labor and Public Broadcasting
DOA oversees a variety of agencies and services, including labor relations.
Quick told Sen. Finance Co-chair Bert Stedman (R-Sitka) that he had a great relationship with unions in the KPB, though he left for the job at DOA before he could negotiate with them.
When Wielechowski asked whether Quick supports the current union contracts at the State level, he responded, “I’m not allowed to not support them. That would go against labor relations laws.”
Will Quick seek changes to those contracts, Wielechowski pressed.
Not now, no, Quick told Wielechowski.
Those answers are unlikely to imbue labor leaders with confidence.
“Do you have any thoughts on how you might incentivize State workers to be more competitive, to perform better?” Senate State Affairs Chair Mike Shower (R-Wasilla) asked. “Give them incentives to work better, faster, harder, more efficient with what we do?”
Quick said the answer lies in regular performance evaluations, something he suggested the administration of former Gov. Bill Walker did not do. Quick said he is “just on the cusp” of performance incentives, as well as a means of disciplining workers faster.
During his testimony, Quick said that an outside perspective is important when considering how to improve a system.
“Too many fresh eyes are out there and people that are unfamiliar with what’s going on,” retorted Sen. Donny Olson (D-Golovin), alluding to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Donna Arduin.
Arduin has cut State budgets in Michigan and Florida. She has never lived in Alaska.
Senate Finance will hear from Arduin Wednesday, along with Legislative Finance Director David Teal.
Olson said public broadcasting is a key form of communication in rural Alaska, especially about weather.
“How do I allay my constituents’ concerns that they’re going to be shutting down some of these public broadcasting radio stations out in rural Alaska?” Olson asked Quick.
“Ultimately, the governor is going to present an amended budget, which I will be supportive of,” Quick responded.
Quick added the caveat that the legislature will vote on that budget and could increase or decrease it.
But Dunleavy will have the final say. Article II, Section 15 of the Alaska Constitution provides the governor with the authority to line-item veto appropriation bills.
“My question still is, what kind of vision do you have for public [broadcasting],” Olson persisted after Quick’s non-answer. “If you don’t have one, then I guess I’m even more concerned about public broadcasting.”
Quick replied that public broadcasting has value, but that there is room for efficiencies in every agency. He declined to say whether Dunleavy will be funding public broadcasting at current levels.
Most recently, then-Sen. Dunleavy moved to cut all State assistance for public broadcasting from the FY 2018 budget when he served as chair of the DOA budget subcommittee. The $2.9 million was later restored by the full Senate Finance Committee over Dunleavy’s objection.
Dunleavy Only Looking at Cuts This Year, Not Taxes, Tangeman Says
In contrast to Quick, Department of Revenue (DOR) Commissioner-designee Bruce Tangeman has previously spent time at the department to which he has been appointed, serving as deputy commissioner of revenue under former Gov. Sean Parnell.
Tangeman also served as a budget analyst for DHSS and a fiscal analyst for the Legislative Finance Division.
During his confirmation hearing, Senate Finance members tried to get Tangeman to give clues about Dunleavy’s upcoming budget ahead of the State of the State address Tuesday, but he left those answers up to OMB.
Tangeman did say that the Dunleavy administration has little desire for adding any new taxes.
“Living within your means. Matching expenditures to revenues. These are all catchphrases that have been used in the past, but this administration is serious about them,” he said. “If you can’t drive down the cost of government, our revenue streams cannot support the cost of government where we’re at.”
The administration is open to conversations about small fee increases, Tangeman told Sen. David Wilson (R-Wasilla), but it is not willing to discuss them until cuts have been made.
“Alaska is going to have a [broad-based] tax someday,” Tangeman allowed, “but I think we push that out for many, many years if we’re responsible now in how we use our revenues and what we reset our baseline budget at.”
“How is an economy this small going to react to any sort of tax implications?” he wondered.
“We are not immediately solving the $1.6 billion problem at the Department of Revenue with a single revenue source today,” Tangeman said of the deficit, potentially a dig at Wielechowski’s proposal to eliminate a per-barrel tax credit for oil companies that is projected to save the State about $1 billion per year.
“This administration is not interested in adjusting the oil and gas tax whatsoever,” Tangeman declared.
Tangeman announced Dunleavy’s revised budget is expected around February 13. Stedman said work on that budget will begin the day after it arrives.
Senate Finance forwarded Quick and Tangeman — after a single hearing — for consideration of the whole legislature. Joint sessions for consideration of appointees have been held in April in recent years.
Quick and Tangeman will also sit for confirmation hearings on the House side, should the House ever organize.
Twenty Republicans voted Tuesday to make Rep. Dave Talerico (R-Healy) speaker of the House, one vote shy of the majority needed. Speaker Pro Tem Neal Foster (D-Nome) will continue to preside over the House until a permanent speaker can achieve a majority.
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