Data Shows Granting Driver’s Licenses to Undocumented New Yorkers Would Benefit Everyone

Comptroller Stringer and Fiscal Policy Institute :Data Shows How Expanding Driver’s License Eligibility Would Increase Economic Mobility for Immigrants, Improve Road Safety, and Lower Insurance Premiums for All

Data Shows Granting Driver’s Licenses to Undocumented New Yorkers Would Benefit Everyone

(New York, NY) — New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, the Fiscal Policy Institute, New York Immigration Coalition, Make the Road New York, and MinKwon Center today renewed their call to expand access to driver’s licenses to all New Yorkers, without regard to immigration status – citing economic and safety benefits of the policy. The coalition gathered as Comptroller Stringer and the Fiscal Policy Institute reemphasized comprehensive data analyses highlighting the significant social and economic benefits of extending driving privileges to undocumented immigrants. More specifically, the data shows that expanding driver’s license eligibility would increase license fees and vehicle ownership-related revenue, resulting in increased funding to the City and State – with more than $5 million going towards mass transit annually. The data also shows the policy change would help support immigrant families by expanding job opportunities, while potentially lowering insurance premiums for all state drivers and improving public safety on roadways, with the fiscal costs of implementing the proposal more than offset by added revenues from driver’s license fees.

According to Comptroller Stringer’s office, there are approximately 525,000 undocumented adult New Yorkers living across the five boroughs. These undocumented residents already contribute to the tax base in the City and State, but because they are denied access to driver’s licenses, they are more restricted in their job prospects, face longer commutes, and live in fear of deportation.

“For many of us, a driver’s license is nothing more than a piece of plastic tucked in between our credit cards, but for undocumented immigrants it means better job opportunities, a safe way to get your child to school, and to the hospital in an emergency – all without fear of deportation during a routine traffic stop,” said Comptroller Stringer. “The time is now for Albany to expand access to all New Yorkers because granting licenses isn’t just a statement of our moral values, it also makes sense from both a financial and public safety perspective.”

Currently, 12 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico grant drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants. The Comptroller’s Office estimates that implementing the policy in New York City would result in 150,000 undocumented immigrants in New York City receiving licenses, providing the following benefits:

  • Increased Economic Mobility for Families — Expanding driver’s license access will provide these New Yorkers with greater access to higher paying jobs and strengthen families by making it easier for parents to drive their children to and from school.
  • Increased Revenues Would Offset Program Costs — New York State would gain up to $9.6 million in driver’s license fees, while the MTA would see an increase of $1.3 million in revenue from these fees.
  • Higher Auto Industry Sales — Sales in the auto industry would increase by 2.7 percent, generating tens of millions of dollars for the state in registration and title fees, as well as vehicle and gasoline sales taxes.
  • Lower Auto Insurance Premiums — According to a recent study, preventing immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses increases annual insurance expenditures for licensed drivers by $17.22 per person. Changing New York State policy would deliver savings to New York City’s 3.6 million licensed drivers in future years.
  • Improvements in Public Safety — When all drivers learn the rules of the road and purchase insurance policies, the broader public benefits.

According to the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI), revenues from expanding access to driver’s licenses, which would increase the number of people buying cars and paying licensing fees, would more than cover expenses to the Department of Motor Vehicles. The report details how greater access to driver’s licenses would create additional revenues for public transportation authorities and especially benefit state and county governments.

“Having a driver’s license is a big deal for undocumented immigrants in parts of New York City that are far from the subway, and for those who may need to drive for work,” said David Dyssegaard Kallick, Deputy Director of the Fiscal Policy Institute. “But it’s even more important for immigrants on Long Island, Westchester, and upstate New York, where having a license is something close to a necessity. Licenses will transform people’s lives in the farm country, will help people in the suburbs get to work and pick up their kids from school, and will all around the state mean a better job match between employers and employees, which is good for everyone.”

FPI’s report also finds that from Long Island to the Lower Hudson Valley to Western New York – all areas where owning cars is more necessary to accessing jobs and participating in the economy – the benefits of expanding driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants would help improve economic conditions for undocumented immigrants, be a net positive for the local economy, and would even add some to local budgets and the upstate regional transit authorities. Collectively, undocumented residents already pay about $1.1 billion in state and local taxes annually.

Key findings from the Fiscal Policy Institute’s report on new revenues from expanding driver’s licenses in upstate New York include:

  • 265,000 people would get driver’s licenses within three years, including 51,000 on Long Island, 53,000 in the Hudson Valley, and 11,000 in Northern and Western New York.
  • Annual government revenues would increase $57 million, in addition to $26 million in one-time revenues.
     
  • Increases include $28 million in annual revenues to New York State, $21 million to county governments, $8.6 million to the MTA (in addition to $2.2 million in one-time revenue), and $288,000 to upstate mass transportation authorities.
     
  • Further detail about upstate metro areas is available in the report.

Comptroller Stringer and the Fiscal Policy Institute originally released reports on the economic impact of granting driver’s licenses in 2017 and are reissuing the reports today. The economic and public safety benefits remain the same as two years ago,  but with the balance of power changed in Albany from two years ago the idea has gained renewed traction this session.

In order to realize these benefits, Comptroller Stringer the Fiscal Policy Institute, New York Immigration Coalition, Make the Road New York, and MinKwon Center urge New York State to adopt legislation that would allow all immigrants to obtain licenses and launch a targeted public awareness campaign to educate eligible immigrants about the program.

“The truth is in the numbers – expanding access to driver’s licenses makes smart economic sense, period.  New York’s economy will get an estimated $57 million more in combined annual revenue, we’ll see safer and more secure roads, and local and county governments will also benefit. Comptroller Stringer and the Fiscal Policy Institute have recognized what the New York City Council, the New York City Mayor and countless other local leaders have – that this is common sense legislation, already implemented in twelve other states, that is good for the economy, small businesses, and the protection of our immigrant communities. We cannot waste another day, our State legislators must expand access to driver’s licenses now,” said Steven Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

Javier H. Valdés, Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York, said, “This vital research reaffirms that restoring access to driver’s licenses for all will be a boon to New York’s economy and state and local budgets. This legislation is a win-win-win for our state: it will help our economy, improve public safety, and protect immigrants. That’s why the momentum continues to grow, and why we expect this urgently-needed bill to pass in Albany this session.”

John Park, Executive Director of the MinKwon Center for Community Action,said, “Twelve states have already adopted common sense legislation to provide driver’s licenses for all because it puts put money back in residents’ pockets with lower insurance premiums, raises tens of millions of dollars in public revenue, and creates safer roads and a more accessible and welcome environment for all. Our state representatives should act quickly, just like the City Council just did by passing a resolution supporting driver’s licenses for all. There is no reason why this should not easily pass and we call on all of our state representatives to support and pass Driver’s Licenses for All.”

To see the Comptroller’s data on this policy, click here.

To see the Fiscal Policy Institute’s report, click
here.

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