Opinion

Is this a legislative scam?

From an editorial in The (Greenville) Reflector on Tuesday:

State lawmakers appear to be playing a shell game with the taxes N.C. drivers have been paying for 57 years to support the driver education program. When tax dollars earmarked for specified services no longer pay for those services, the government should not get to keep the money.

The 2014-15 state budget includes a provision to stop funding the driver education program from the state’s Highway Fund. That means school systems must absorb the cost or ask for more money from county taxpayers, neither of which is likely. More likely is that the full cost of driver education will be passed to students and their parents.

Driver education advocates say the steep cost will translate to an estimated 35 percent decrease in eligible students enrolling in driver education courses. More students will wait to obtain a driver’s license until age 18, when one doesn’t need to complete a driver education course.

There are legitimate concerns about how that might affect crash rates, fatality rates and other highway safety statistics – numbers that ultimately help drive insurance rates. Highway safety, after all, is what state lawmakers had in mind when they implemented the driver-training program in 1957, and the license plate fee — now at $3 — to fund it.

There is debate over whether the fee still exclusively goes to fund driver education. If it does not, the state comptroller should be able to pinpoint when exactly those dollars intended for driver education began going somewhere else in the budget, and why.

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