[Post corrected to reflect that DPS didn’t get funding through a contingent rider in 2011 for improvements in drivers’ license services].
Yesterday, I got an interesting email from a reader asking a slight variation on a question I’ve looked at before. Previously, I’ve examined how expensive it is to acquire an election I.D. for an individual voter, but this reader asked, “Would you have any idea how much it will cost the State of Texas to issue the “free” ID cards and where that money is coming from? Is DPS covering the cost and if not, which agency will cover it?”
After I took a stab at answering the question, the reader asked in passing if I had ever blogged about the issue, and I thought, “no, but why not?”
First, the question is an excellent one, and not easily answered based on the limited budget information provided by the State of Texas. The most accurate answer would be for me to say, “I don’t know” and leave it at that, but there are some clues that allow us to guess what Texas taxpayers spend to implement the provisions of the 2011 Texas picture I.D. law.
Digging through the DPS budget is a bit numbing, so let me summarize what I found, before you have to go read through my long post.
It looks like the cost of implementing the issuance of “free” election identification certificates might have been included in a 2011 contingent appropriations rider for improvements in DPS computer systems, database management, and driver license systems, and that the cost was part of a larger $64 million package. My guess is that voter i.d. didn’t account for the whole $64 million (although that would certainly be eye-opening).
What complicates things is that the contingent rider never went into effect – the associated public safety bill (S.B. 9, 2011 Tex. Leg., R.S.) never passed, and the money that DPS might have hoped for didn’t materialize, at least not in that one-time rider.
My guess is that the portion of the cost to the taxpayers attributable to the free I.D. program in Texas is somewhere in the neighborhood of $14-20 million, based on cost estimates from other states that adopted picture i.d. requirements and that are a little less shy about discussing their budgets.
(Although I’m not consistent about this myself, I think it’s more accurate to call the Texas law a “picture I.D. law” than a “voter I.D. law.” Texas already had voter I.D. law for over a hundred years, and it worked perfectly well for that entire time, it just didn’t involve a restrictive list of a few select types of picture I.D. in order to qualify to cast a ballot).
WHAT I FOUND WHEN I LOOKED IN THE FY2012 DPS BUDGET REQUEST
Anyway, proponents of new, punitive picture I.D. laws tend to be quite shy about discussing the price tag associated with providing free I.D.s – that’s been the pattern not just in Texas, but also in other states such as Pennsylvania, Missouri, Georgia, and elsewhere).
But this budgetary reticence is quite pronounced in Texas, and might be worse here than in other jurisdictions, in part because the Texas Legislature has proven to be very allergic to the idea of spending any state money whatsoever on social programs or services.
The Texas Legislature is famously hostile to the creation of any program, benefit, or service that costs money to implement. Therefore, a quick and easy way to derail legislation is to have the Texas Comptroller or some other state agency attach a fiscal note estimating the cost of implementation of the law.
Aside from its historical allergic reaction to spending money, there’s probably another reason why Texas is so coy about the start-up costs. Given the miniscule number of people who have applied for election identification certificates, the per-unit cost is huge. If you were at DPS, would you want to admit that you had spent millions in order to get laminated cards made for half a dozen people?