Testimony on the Report of the NYC Council Task Force on Economic Development Tax Expenditures

September 22, 2016. James Parrott, a member of the New York City Council’s Task Force on Economic Development Tax Expenditures chaired by Finance Committee Chair Julissa Ferreras, presented this testimony at a September 22 hearing on the Task Force report and recommendations for a rigorous, ongoing evaluation procedure.  He also urged the Council to convene a hearing on the Hudson Yards property tax breaks, the costs of which are rapidly rising.

PDF of Testimony

New Census Data Show Improvement in Poverty and Incomes in New York State

September 19, 2016. New York has reason to be optimistic as poverty is declining and incomes are on the upswing, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

FPI notes that there were significant declines in the overall poverty rates for New York State and New York City in 2015 from 2014 (but no other significant year-over-year changes).

The New York State poverty rate for 2015 was 15.4%, down 0.5% from 2014 (15.9%) resulting in approximately 90,000 fewer New Yorkers living in poverty. New York City saw a statistically significant decrease in poverty over the course of the last year as well with poverty rates falling 0.9% from 20.9% (2014) to 20% (2015).

While we have seen an improvement in the past year there is still much work to be done. Looking back over the past 15 years it is clear that poverty has been growing in New York State. Despite the improvement in this year’s numbers, we can see from the following chart that over the past 15 years poverty had been trending upward and has yet to fall to the level that prevailed in the early 2000s.

Child poverty rates also remain persistently high; the state’s child poverty rate fell from 22.6% in 2014 to 22% in 2015, but that change is not considered statistically significant. Child poverty was 28.6 percent in New York City in 2015, and even higher in many upstate cities.

New York State poverty rates 2000-2015

Poverty Trends 2000-2015










According to Ron Deutsch, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, “While there is cause for optimism based on the most recent census data examining poverty, there are still nearly 3 million New Yorkers (and over 900,000 children) living below the federal poverty level. In one of the richest states in the nation these numbers should be completely unacceptable.”

New York’s median family income rose by an inflation-adjusted 3.7% in 2015 to $73,854. While the 2015 level is down slightly from the pre-recession high reached in 2008, the difference between the two years is not statistically significant according to Census Bureau methods. In New York City, median family incomes rose 4.4% to $61,413. Census Bureau sampling methods do not lend themselves to reliably reporting one-year changes for upstate cities.

“The historically weak national economic recovery is finally starting to deliver real wage and income gains for New York’s working families,” stated James Parrott, FPI’s chief economist. Parrott added, “State action this year to raise the minimum wage in the months and years ahead will help to keep this momentum going.”


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Driver’s License Fees: Low, Medium, and High-Cost States

September 16, 2016. The cost of getting a driver’s license has become entwined with many different issues recently. It is relevant to discussions of allowing unauthorized immigrants to apply for licenses. It has come up in states that require people to show identification in order to vote and in discussions surrounding fees that are a barrier to getting a state-issued ID. And, some states have acted to reduce the burden for some groups by allowing free or reduced-cost licenses to homeless people, senior citizens, veterans, or people recently released from incarceration.

The fee charged for a driver’s license varies substantially from state to state. For instance, after adjusting for the number of years for which it is valid and other factors to make a fair comparison, we find that the cost of a license in the lowest-cost state, Wyoming, is less than one tenth of the costs in the highest-cost state, Vermont.

This report lays out the fees for a driver’s license and associated costs in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.

What Fees Are Charged?

Mandatory costs and details associated with obtaining a driver’s license differ depending on the state. The amount of time for which a license is valid ranges from 4 to 8 years[1]. In addition, some states require one payment to cover the permit and driver’s license, others require separate fees. Some states also charge separate fees for applications and testing. There are some fees that are only applicable to immigrants, such as an additional fingerprinting fee in Utah and a higher license fee for non-citizen applicants in Colorado. Colorado charges non-citizens $79.50 for a driver’s license, which is over three times the cost of a driver’s license for a citizen applicant. Many states, such as California, Vermont, Illinois, Nevada and others, offer two different licenses—a Real ID (can be used to enter federal facilities and board aircraft) and a standard ID. The issuance of two different licenses may affect the cost of a driver’s license.

A detailed list of the fee schedule for licenses in all 50 states can be found here.

To organize this information into a comparable list, we added together the fees for a license, which include the driver’s license fee, permit fee, application fee, test fees and for some states a yearly renewal fee. However, not all states had each of these separate fees. Since the most common length of time for a license to be valid is four years, we adjusted all to that standard (so, if a license was good for eight years we divided the cost by two).

Figure 1 shows the unadjusted cost of a license, breaking out the cost of learner’s permits and testing or other additional fees.*

Figure 1.

Figure 2 shows the cost of getting the same license in different states—again, this is the full cost for a regular driver’s license, standardized to the equivalent of a license valid for four years.

States that are categorized into the low fee interval were those with a cost below $25.00, the medium fee states were defined by $25.00 and above but less than $50.00 and lastly, the states which are classified as a high fee have a cost of $50.00 or more.

Figure 2.

The highest-cost state is Vermont, which charges the equivalent of $103 for a 4-year license. Other Northeastern states also have very high fees—Maryland, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. New York has different charges by region. Downstate New York—New York City and the suburbs that make up the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District, has the 7th highest fee, at $66.60. And upstate New York (the rest of the state) has the 10th highest, at $51.40. The only other state to charge different fees by region is Kentucky—not included here because each of its 120 counties determines its driver’s license fees independently.

At the low end of the scale, the state with the lowest cost is Wyoming with a fee of $10.00. Florida ranked the highest in the low fee states with a cost of $24.00, but ranks as the 34th state overall. Many of the Southern states, such as South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Arkansas have costs that fall within the low fee states.

In addition to these standard fees, there are also sometimes additional costs that are not accounted for here. States charge differing fees for renewals, for instance. We look only at regular licenses, not licenses for driving commercial vehicles, or for motorcycles. And states charge differing fees for duplicates to replace lost or stolen licenses, transferring a license from out of state and modifications made to the license, such as a name or address change.

And, some states waive certain fees for specific individuals such as those in the armed forces and veterans, recently released inmates, and homeless people. Hardship licenses can be issued in some cases, in acknowledgement that individuals may need a license to care for their family even during a time when their license is suspended. States that have some of the fee waivers listed above include Alaska, Florida, Georgia, and Maine.

The adjusted annual rate does not include these added costs or the fee waivers, but nonetheless gives a good basis for seeing where the fees are in each state and how the state ranks compared to others.


by Cyierra Roldan


[1] In many states, licenses for non-citizen drivers are valid for the length of their stay in the United States, while other non-citizen drivers are required to renew their license every year.

Additional Notes

*Kentucky was removed from Figure 1 due to varying fees by county and no standard state fee.

*For New York, both Upstate and Downstate, and Louisiana a range was provided on their Motor Vehicle websites. The lowest dollar amount was used from each range as the cost of a driver’s license.

*For license or permit fees that included a yearly renewal fee, the fee was added once to adjust for the initial fee of the license or permit. The states with yearly renewal fees include Iowa, Maryland, Tennessee and West Virginia.

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