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Hochul Says Federal Dollars Needed for Secure Drivers Licenses

By Mark Scott

Buffalo, NY – Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul is pledging her full cooperation with the state and federal governments if plans move forward to allow a secure drivers license to cross the US-Canadian border.

During his visit to Buffalo on Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said he would support a compromise that would allow people crossing the border to use a secure drivers license rather than a passport as identification when crossing the border. Just what is a secure license has not been determined yet.

But in a letter she sent to Chertoff Tuesday, Hochul said she doesn't want county taxpayers footing the bill for the federally mandated initiative. She said there are nearly 650,000 licensed drivers in Erie County.

If they're required to get a secure drivers license, Hochul said the anticipated volume would be staggering. She said her existing staff, which is down by some 40 employees because of the 2005 county budget crisis, could not handle that. Hochul said her department would need to create a separate licensing center at a cost of $1.6 million. She said that cost should be covered by the federal government.

Chertoff wants the new border requirements to take effect by next year at this time. Congress is seeking a delay through June 2009.