PennDot predicts up to $30 million in start-up costs for federally approved IDs

Pennsylvania expects to spend between $24 million and $30 million in start-up expenses to comply with federal requirements to make state-issued identification cards more secure, less than a third of what PennDot said it would cost five years ago, state transportation officials told legislators on Friday.

Cost was one of the major reasons legislators in 2012 passed a bill, signed by Gov. Tom Corbett, to keep the state from complying with the federal standards. At the time, the state Department of Transportation estimated it would cost more than $100 million to implement and $40 million a year, double the annual cost the department now projects.

Critics at the time also said they feared compliance with federal regulations would lead to a national registry of license holders.

Pennsylvania is one of 23 states — including New Jersey and New York — that do not yet comply with the REAL ID Act, recommended by the 9/11 Commission and passed in 2005 to establish minimum security standards for identification cards used for domestic air travel or to enter federal facilities.

The act seeks to impose some uniformity in identification cards and licenses nationwide, requiring them to all include the same descriptive information, security features, and machine-readable technology. On Oct. 1, 2020, anyone who plans to fly on an airplane within the United States must have identification that meets the new standards.

Gov. Wolf signed the Pennsylvania REAL ID Compliance Act in May. The state plans to begin issuing the identification cards, which are optional, in spring 2019. New Jersey expects to start issuing the ID cards by the end of the year, and New York plans to start doing so on Oct. 30.

Federal facilities and Transportation Security Administration agents will continue to accept passports in place of any state-issued identification cards that do not meet the new federal standards.

PennDot said that the higher cost estimates were made a decade ago, and that refinements of the federal regulations since then have given states more flexibility.

Still, State Sen. Art Haywood (D., Montgomery), minority chair of the Communications and Technology Committee, called the initial decision not to comply “a significant mistake.”

Although PennDot has reduced its expense estimates, costs are still higher than they could have been if the state had more time before the looming deadline of 2020 to comply, said Haywood, whose committee held hearings this year on REAL ID implementation.

“It was very clear that the delay in deciding to comply was going to cost us a significant amount of money, more than if we decided to comply early on,” Haywood said.

PennDot estimates that about a quarter of its customers — 2.5 million people — will decide to get the new cards. The agency has not decided how much customers will be asked to pay.

To get one of these cards, residents must apply in person, “which means a huge surge of customers to Driver License Centers already operating at max capacity,” according to Alexis Campbell, a PennDot spokeswoman. The department plans to open five to eight new centers, modify five existing centers, and upgrade other centers as they are renovated to be able to issue same-day REAL ID cards.

The state estimates it will spend between $26 million and $29 million of the cost during the first year, including up to $13 million for facilities, $4 million for staffing, $5 million for equipment, and $3 million for upgrades to information-technology systems.