2007-10-17 / Political Page

GOP Skewers Gov's License Plan; Spitzer, Staff Defend It

BY JOHN TOSCANO

Two Republican state legislative committees urged the state motor vehicles commissioner on Monday to dump Governor Eliot Spitzer's plan to issue licenses to illegal aliens, citing security concerns, but the official staunchly defended the proposed program.

Under a four-hour grilling by the GOP-controlled panel, Commissioner David Swarts defended Spitzer's claimed benefits about the plan, and gave no clue whether he would recommend that the plan be delayed.

Delay would be a useless exercise, however, since Spitzer, in a statement released outside the hearing in Albany, stoutly defended his controversial proposal.

Swarts also stated the policy does not require legislative approval, but the Republicans said they could thwart the governor's plan by withholding funding for it next year when the second phase of it is to be implemented.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Tom Libous of Binghamton at one point told Swarts: "There seems to be a bit of arrogance here in jamming down the public's throat that this is something that is good for you."

And at another point, Vincent Leibell, chairman of the Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committees, warned, "We will not be idle when we see our state's security in jeopardy, nor will the citizens of New York."

The Senate's top Republican, Joseph Bruno, issued a statement pointing out that the latest Siena College poll "makes abundantly clear what we already knew: that Governor Spitzer's plan is a threat to public safety and security and is another indication that he is increasingly seen as unfit to govern the state".

The poll showed 72 percent of New Yorkers, including 59 percent of Democrats, are against the Spitzer plan, which was backed by 22 percent in the survey.

But Swarts read a prepared statement which he said would "clarify the misinformation out there". He said the program would lead to safer streets by reducing the number of unlicensed drivers, who are more likely to be involved in accidents.

But Leibell declared that under the plan, Osama bin Laden could obtain a driver's license in New York. To which Swarts replied, "I think we'd catch him right away."

The governor declared in his statement: "This policy is not about letting more people into this country. Rather, it is a practical approach to dealing with those who are already here because of the federal government's failure to adequately police our borders.

"We cannot ignore the reality that when hundreds of thousands of people do not have a driver's license, it puts everyone in danger, and we cannot ignore the reality that when hundreds of thousands of people live in the shadows it makes our country less safe and law enforcement's job much harder."

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