The price N.C. pays for tax cuts

The Observer editorial board

Defunding driver’s education could place a high burden on N.C. families and leave roads less safe.
Defunding driver’s education could place a high burden on N.C. families and leave roads less safe. 2011 NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

As North Carolinians are learning, there’s a price to pay for their legislators’ love of corporate tax cuts. We saw that in April with the larger checks many taxpayers had to write to the state. We’re about to see it in new and troubling ways.

While lawmakers sort this week through the newly passed House and Senate budget bills, one thing remains consistent: Republicans want even lower taxes for corporations. In turn, the rest of us could be hit with an array of new taxes, fees and cuts.

The cuts include 8,500 teacher assistant positions, leaving elementary classrooms across the state without a valuable help for students and teachers. Republicans will point to an increase in teacher positions, but why does one have to come at the expense of the other?

The taxes include hikes for veterinary services and advertising, which will affect small businesses across the state. Republicans call it expanding the tax base, which in itself is a good idea. But when it’s done as an emergency way to raise revenue, not as part of comprehensive tax reform, it’s haphazard and inconsistently applied.

There’s also one proposal that shows how far Republicans will go to pay for their brand of tax cuts.

Tucked in the Senate budget is a provision that saves the state $26 million by eliminating free driver’s education at public high schools. Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed budget also eliminates money for driver’s ed.

Doing so, however, could cost families $200-$400 per driver-to-be, unless that driver wants to wait until he or she is 18, at which point state law allows people to get a license without driver’s ed.

Sen. Ralph Hise, a Republican from Spruce Pine, recognizes that the new expense could be a burden on N.C. families. His solution? Eliminate the requirement for driver’s ed altogether.

Instead of valuable classroom and road time with instructors, the Senate proposal would require students to get an 85 on a written test at 15, then gain experience by driving with a parent or other adult for 85 hours, up from 60.

Who keeps track of the 85 hours? It’s an honor system.

Although the quality of driver’s ed courses can vary, statistics show what common sense suggests – that drivers who don’t take driver’s ed are involved in more collisions and fatalities on the road. But on the warped scales that policymakers are using in Raleigh, safety loses out to the need for revenue.

Remember: This search for legislative pennies and nickels is all to fund the fantasy that cutting taxes for the wealthy and corporations will help create jobs for North Carolina.

History shows that doesn’t work, and numbers show it isn’t working here. A U.S. Department of Commerce analysis shows that North Carolina’s economic growth rate slowed to 1.4 percent last year, well behind the national rate of 2.2 percent.

Yet Republicans stubbornly continue down this policy path, even at the risk of compromising safety on the roads.

Can you pull a lawmaker over for reckless legislating?