My Turn: One Phx ID would do little, cost a lot

December 11, 2015
Arizona Republic
Jim Waring

Councilman: Creating a single Phoenix ID card would take about 200 years for the city to see a return on its investment.

This column rejects the need for a proposed ID card that would be issued by the City of Phoenix called One Phx ID.

This effort began as a well-intentioned cost saving measure to consolidate city-service cards (for example, library cards, parks and recreation cards, etc.) that turned out to be prohibitively expensive.

Costs were estimated at $5 million with approximately $20,000 saved a year. So it would take about 200 years for the city to see a return on its investment. I voted against this expensive idea, and it died in subcommittee.

Discussion has now shifted to what some proponents really want: an identification card for those who have no primary form of identification (examples include a driver's license, social security card, or passport).

The state has the responsibility to issue primary forms of identification. A primary identification card lets police know you are who you say you are.

Secondary forms of identification don't carry nearly as much weight as a primary card. Expert testimony before a City Council subcommittee indicated a secondary form of identification is so suspect that it is often treated by authorities as equivalent to a gym, grocery store or library card.

If police contact you and you produce a secondary form of identification they are going to run your name through their database. If you lack primary identification, they are still not going to be sure of your identity. One Phx ID will not solve this problem for people who, for whatever reason, cannot get a primary identification card from the state.

Crime victims who do not contact police because they fear being arrested for not having identification do not understand current law. Police are prohibited from demanding you show identification in the absence of evidence that you committed a crime. The One Phx ID card would not address this issue, as you are not required to show ID in this scenario in the first place.

Supporters cite cities that created their own card. Identification cards issued by other cities (Oakland, for example) require that citizens show a primary identification to obtain their card. If you already have a primary form of identification, as the Phoenix city attorney asked during the Public Safety subcommittee, why would you need or want the One Phx ID card?

It would be an expensive waste of money for the city to produce such a card.

Proponents grossly overstate what One Phx ID will accomplish. If the idea is to give primary ID to people that don't have it — that will not happen.

The One Phx ID Card as proposed cannot be used to establish lawful presence in the U.S. or Arizona, cannot be used to obtain employment in Arizona, cannot be used to register to vote in any election, and cannot be used to obtain any state or local public benefit (except state retirement benefits and state services widely available to the general population as a whole).

For a card with almost no tangible or practical benefit, potential costs are very high. Expenditures in San Francisco for a similar card included an $800,000 start-up and $200,000 per year.

In New York the cost was $14 million in initial cost and $7 million per year. A city projecting deficits for coming fiscal years should demand more bang for the taxpayer buck.

Even if the city council votes to proceed, the state could pass legislation prohibiting the city from issuing the card, thereby wasting any resources spent planning it.

There is no justification, financial or benefits-wise, to proceed with this project. It is potentially very expensive and accomplishes almost nothing of practical value.

<- Go Back