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Slaughter study well reasoned Bush administration needs to see how much cost it's asking of region

Here's a novel idea -- if the federal government is bent on economically crippling cross-border tourism and hamstringing local businesses dependent on U.S.-Canada travel, it should at least tell us how much we're going to get hurt.

That, of course, assumes the White House might care about the pain it's about to impose through policies that will require expensive passport-like documents for travel across Niagara River bridges by 2008. That pain is acceptable in the name of national security, argues the Bush administration -- which, ironically, sees no security threat in turning over American port operations to companies owned by a Mideast government. But the White House and its Republican allies in Congress have blocked all efforts, so far, even to measure that pain by studying costs and benefits.

Rebuffed by a "too busy" Government Accountability Office in requests for a cost study last year, Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, and Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., now seek a budget office analysis based on an old presidential order requiring one when the federal cost to implement programs exceeds $100 million. That study is needed.

The State Department apparently feels the cost of issuing the $50 border ID cards, even required for children, won't top that mark. But effects on regional economies could, if travel between the two countries is chilled. Want to take a date to Fort Erie for Chinese? Add $100 to the bill. Marineland? Another $200, for a family of four. A lot of folks won't pay the price, if they only make a trip or two across the bridge each year. Nor will tourists, who might choose other destinations if their options in this binational tourism region are restricted. A lot of businesses will hurt, because of that.

The passport-like cards should make it a little tougher for enemies to infiltrate the border, but won't stop those who have U.S. citizenship already or can gain entry, as the 9/1 1 attackers did, under plausible pretenses. The cards are an incremental increase in security, at a cost to an already depressed regional economy. The White House has a responsibility to find out how much cost, and whether the pain is worth erecting a largely bureaucratic barrier at the border.

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