Toll Hikes And DMV Changes Are Unwarranted

September 28, 2007

Governor Spitzerís administration has created two roadblocks to economic prosperity and security. Specifically, the administration announced plans to hike tolls for Thruway users and new policies to rescind security on DMV licensing.

The high cost of fuel has driven down the use of our stateís toll road system. As a result, the Thruway Authority, which is responsible for maintaining the 641-mile superhighway system, wants to increase tolls to make up the lost revenue. Recently, the Authority announced steep deficits in out-year budgets, which could negatively impact the billions of dollars of road improvements it has planned.

The lack of travel is consistent with national trends, which has travel growth at nearly flat levels over the last two years; however, increasing tolls to compensate for lost revenue is unwarranted. Instead, a proposed toll hike of twenty percent will most likely worsen the problem as motorists find alternative routes to get to their destinations. As it is now, truck traffic is high on many local state routes as many tractor-trailers seek toll-free roads as an alternative to paying for the Thruway.

Increasing fees will likely deflect daily Thruway users and more truck traffic through our towns and villages. This action will have a direct and negative impact on the quality of life in the cities, towns and villages along these state routes. Additionally, a toll increase is not a welcome idea to New Yorkers who have seen sharp increases in their taxes and cost of living, which have been accompanied by relatively low or nonexistent wage increases in recent years. Instead of only looking at the bottom line of their revenue, the Thruway Authority should look to other states with comparable systems to look for viable alternatives and, perhaps, look to other sources of funding before stifling the use of the highway with ever-higher fees, as well as what opportunities exist to reduce unnecessary spending. More thought and consideration needs to be had before any operating costs are passed onto users of the New York State Thruway.

An additional policy change was made by Governor Spitzer last week. The state Department of Motor Vehicles has been directed by the governor to rescind the requirement of proof of Social Security number to qualify for a state driverís license and accept documents such as foreign passports as proof of identity. This weakening of requirements raises several security concerns and its implementation is questionable in the face of new federal requirements that would enhance security through verification.

The Federal Real ID Act, and the proposed federal regulations to implement it, requires states to meet certain minimum-security standards in order for state driverís licenses to be acceptable. Requirements include that an applicant produce evidence of a valid Social Security Number. The only foreign documentation that would be accepted would be a foreign passport with a valid, current US Visa. The federal standards were developed to protect against identity fraud and protect our national security. Many of the foreign terrorists involved in the attack on our nation on September 11, 2001 used false information to obtain driverís licenses that allowed them to move about our country freely, rent vehicles and board the aircraft used in the plot against us.

By ignoring the impending Federal requirements, a New York state driverís license will lose its status as a secure, government-issued identification card that cannot be used for activities as routine for New Yorkers as crossing the border into Canada. Instead of easing security, I am calling on the governor to reconsider his new policy and make changes with sensitivity to security concerns and ensure a more democratic process by passing these measures through the legislative process.

A New York state driverís license is indeed a privilege and responsibility that should only be granted to legal New York residents. Itís Civics 101 that those individuals who are in our state legally ought to be entitled to all the rights and privileges therein. At the same time, we should not reward those who come to our shores illegally or use subterfuge to gain important identification documents.

This policy creates a dangerous loophole in state DMV regulations, allowing illegal aliens and potential terrorists the opportunity to apply for state driverís licenses without regard to their citizenship status.

If we follow the governorís unwise plan, New York state driverís licenses will no longer be accepted at our nationís borders or airports as of May 11, 2008. This is wrong for New York and wrong for our national security.