Thank you to all members of the Transportation Committee for listening to these remarks today. My name is Maisum Murtaza, and I work as a researcher for the Keystone Research Center and Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. We at PBPC are working hard alongside other talented researchers, advocates, and policy experts to help drive Pennsylvania toward becoming a state where everyone can live with dignity and without the fear that goes with knowing they’re unable to meet their own basic needs and the needs of those who depend on them. We would be one step closer to this goal with the expansion of driver’s license access to all immigrants in Pennsylvania through House Bill 279.
I’d like to start off with all the lessons we’ve learned over the last 18 months on how our communities and economy function.
The last year and a half have been difficult for everyone, but the challenges have put a spotlight on divisive narratives that suggest we are somehow different from the undocumented population—or any other population in this country that has struggled throughout the pandemic. Every person in Pennsylvania has basic needs that must be met if our communities are to recover from the difficult time that is behind us and the trials that populate the road ahead.
Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it increasingly clear what industries our communities cannot function without. We labeled the workers in these occupations as “essential” or “frontline” workers. In Pennsylvania, many of these workers are considered low-wage workers, and immigrants are disproportionately represented in many of the industries we’ve labeled “essential.” The undocumented immigrants that have contributed so heavily to the survival of our state during the pandemic have done so knowing the great personal risk they take on every time they leave the house, which is why I/we are here to support the access to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants as a policy that not only benefits us economically but allows everyone in Pennsylvania to have better lives.
PBPC has released two major reports regarding immigrant research. One outlines the overall contribution of immigrants to the state and the second looks specifically at the expansion of driver’s licenses and the benefits Pennsylvania would experience by adopting such a policy. These benefits include positive impacts on public safety; increased economic contributions; and overall benefits for families, businesses, and individuals. Most importantly, the report supports a policy that allows the undocumented residents of our state to improve their lives, strengthen our communities, and improve job-matching, which would benefit family life.
Allow me to go over some of the main findings of our driver’s license report:
- There are an estimated 164,000 undocumented individuals in our state who would be eligible for driver’s licenses.
- Illinois and other states found that after three years of changing its driver’s license law, about 50% of eligible undocumented immigrants secured a license when given the chance. Using that estimated take-up rate, we estimate that approximately 82,000 individuals in PA would secure a driver’s license.
- The output of undocumented workers in Pennsylvania is essential to several industries. These industries include agriculture, where undocumented workers account for almost 9% of the annual output and construction and manufacturing where these workers are responsible for 2% of the output. Undocumented workers are also well represented in the leisure and hospitality industry where they represent 3% of the annual output. These labor contributions could be facilitated and increased through the expansion of driver’s license access.
- With this policy change, Pennsylvania could expect to see a $13-million increase in revenue over the next three years from taxes, registration fees, license fees, and vehicle-related purchases:
- $3.5 million from taxes on vehicle-related consumption and sales.
- $4.6 million from additional liquid fuels taxes.
- $1.9 million from vehicle registration fees.
- $2.9 million from license fees ($35.50 per new license).
Also important to note is that these estimates include revenues from car-related sales, registrations, and licenses. As more families become mobile, the effects would have positive impacts on the local economy and communities as economic contribution becomes easier for the undocumented population.
And of course, this is in addition to the economic contributions undocumented workers already make to the state. Our state’s undocumented population makes a YEARLY contribution of $135 million in state and local taxes, including sales and excise tax, property taxes, and personal income tax. In addition to the increased tax revenue, there would be entrepreneurial contributions and labor contributions to all of Pennsylvania’s industries, especially agriculture.
There would be other benefits to this policy change outside of increased tax revenue:
- Expanding license access leads to insurance savings. When more people are covered, there are fewer accidents involving uninsured drivers which reduces insurance rates for everyone and out-of-pocket expenses surrounding crashes.
- Expanding license access would lead to safer streets by ensuring more drivers on the road have passed a driving test and taken instruction on Pennsylvania’s driving and road safety laws.
- And most importantly, expanding access to driver’s licenses would provide immeasurable benefits to thousands of individuals and families across Pennsylvania, leading to better access to grocery stores and healthy food, school and school activities for kids, better access to doctor’s offices, and access to health care (which is so critical during this pandemic), potentially more adequate housing and utility services, and better employment opportunities.
So in sum, expanding access to driver’s licenses is good policy:
- It’s good not only for undocumented residents in our state but for the entire population of the Common It would allow members of our communities—our neighbors—to live with dignity, to access life’s necessities, and to provide for their families, which increases everyone’s well-being, including those whose services and products the undocumented immigrants are then able to purchase.
- It is good for our local businesses and our economy. In addition to a general increase in purchase power, we’d see increased car and car-related purchases (gas and maintenance and repair), an increase in the number of drivers with car insurance, and better job-matching.
- It is good for our state—it would bring in additional revenue, lower insurance rates, and ensure our roads are safer.