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Border IDs will hurt economy, poll shows

Requiring passports at the Canadian border will cost as much as $2.5 billion in lost business on both sides of the border, a Zogby survey shows.

The poll shows a third of Americans and Canadians would be less likely to cross the northern border to shop, attend sporting events or go to resorts if they had to buy a passport or something like it.

This would cost U.S. businesses nearly $800 million a year and Canadian businesses, $1.7 billion.

The survey showed that potential land travelers know little about President Bush's Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which requires passport-like documents to enter or return to the United States by January 2008.

In mid-February, Zogby International conducted a telephone survey of 1,213 likely voters in 11 U.S. border states, and 502 randomly selected Canadians.

The study showed vacationing is the main reason for half of the cross-border visits by Canadian and U.S. residents, with shopping, entertainment and seeing family and friends topping the rest of the list.

Both nationalities spend between $100 and $500 on each trip, with Canadians usually the bigger spenders.

But about 87 percent of U.S. residents said they are unfamiliar with the proposed federal requirements; 82 percent of Canadians said the same thing, indicating there may be a lot of surprised tourists when the new mandate is imposed.

"I'm not surprised at all by the Zogby poll," said Howard Zemsky of Buffalo, a venture capitalist with investments in nearby Ontario. Zemsky called the passport plan "absurd."

"The fact that people won't apply for and pay for a single-purpose card is not surprising," Zemsky said.

>Not interested

Asked if they would buy a special ID to cross the border, 68 percent of Americans, and 54 percent of Canadians told Zogby's interviewers "no."

Luke Rich, consultant to the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, said, "This poll adds clear evidence to our claims that neither Americans nor Canadians will pay for a new card that only provides border-crossing access."

Rich and the organization sponsoring the Zogby poll said the administration should consider using a nationally approved driver's license as a substitute for a passport-type document.

The group that commissioned the survey is the BESTT Coalition (Borders for Economic Security, Trade and Tourism). The Buffalo Niagara Partnership helped create BESTT to combat the passport initiative.

The partnership also opposes a suggestion made by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in January that a wallet-sized PASS card be allowed as a border-crossing document.

The Department of State is also strongly backing the passport mandate.

Rich said, "Our challenge is to get the attention of two monolithic bureaucracies that have already decided what they will do long before they began the regulatory process."

Some backers of the study, however, could not agree on what can be done about the passport requirement if the Bush administration insists on it.

Asking for repeal is politically "unrealistic" in a midterm congressional election year because no one wants to look soft on terrorism, said Lisa Katz, a spokeswoman for the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.

As the report was released, Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, a House Republican leader from Clarence, joined in a bipartisan call for an economic impact study by the president's budget director before the rule takes effect in January 2008.

"I look forward to hearing from [the administration] on this issue very soon," Reynolds said. "[A White House] study will show what we have been saying all along: any burdensome requirement will severely impact the more than $20 billion in commerce passing over the Peace Bridge and the 2.2 million visits made by Canadians to New York."

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, sent a nearly identical letter to the White House weeks ago.

The letters note that an executive order requires a study of economic consequences of orders like the administration's passport mandate before they can be imposed.

The latest appeal was signed by half the state's delegation, including Slaughter and Rep. Brian M. Higgins, D-Buffalo.

Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Wash., said during a news conference that the federal law imposing the passport rule ought to be repealed.

The only member of the New York State delegation who agrees with Morris is Higgins.

>The REAL-ID card

Rich and BESTT spokesmen suggested a form of driver's license could be a solution. The closest Congress has come to creating a universally acceptable driver's license is the REAL-ID card, which imposes stricter identity tests on new operator's licenses than existed previously.

Reynolds and the Republican majority voted for the REAL-ID card.

But many Democrats opposed it, including Slaughter and Higgins. Higgins said, "We don't need to give the Department of Homeland Security carte blanche to take over our borders, which is one of the provisions in the bill and just one of the reasons I opposed it."

"What Buffalo needs is to get rid of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and to allow commerce and law abiding citizens easy access back and forth between Canada and New York."

Reynolds noted that U.S. surface transportation trade with Canada totaled $458 billion in 2005, up 12 percent compared with 2004.

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com

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