The Post editorial: Our despicable license program
Too often anymore strident adherence to ideology gets in the way of reasonable thinking. Take Colorado’s shameful handling of its fledgling driver’s license program for those living — and driving — in the country illegally.
This is a smart program, or it should have been. By giving those here illegally the chance to prove their ability to comply with the rules of the road, all of us are safer. The licenses are specifically marked to note the holder isn’t a U.S. citizen and cannot be used to grant voting privileges in our local and national elections. To fund the program without burden to taxpayers, the state charges $50 more per license. More than 120,000 people are eligible. If ever there was the potential for a selfsustaining program, this is one.
But for three years now, the program has been cruelly stymied by a lack of authorized funding. Each legislative session, conservative hardliners allow only a fraction of the population to be served by setting overly tight spending allowances. So instead of planning for 120,000 applicants, the state structures its appointments for the licenses to allow but a trickle.
The result is that only a few of the state’s 50-plus licensing centers have been available to a fraction of those who need the licenses. What started as five offices offering 155 appointments a day for applicants has dwindled to three offices offering a mere 93 slots a day. Gaining an appointment is a months-long nightmare. Predators have risen up trying to trick would-be applicants into paying hundreds of dollars for a slot.
It gets worse. By next year, only one office will offer the licenses, as The Denver Post’s Jesse Paul reported recently. And because the licenses are only good for three years, within the next few months about 11,000 of those able to gain the licenses so far will be cast to the back of that clogged line to await renewal. There they will only further reduce the availability for people applying for the first time.
From August of 2014, when the program went live, to the end of May, the state issued 32,325 licenses and 51 renewals.
Imagine, in the Trump era, what panic this population feels. Imagine the temptation to flee police and endanger other drivers when confronted by otherwise normal traffic violation situations. That fear would be greatly reduced by ensuring undocumented individuals at least have a document that allows legal driving.
We get it that immigration hardliners want nothing to do with the program, and their reasoning isn’t completely faulty. The harder you make life for the population, the less attractive crossing the border illegally becomes.
But if we are known in part by how we treat the least advantaged among us, then this program’s administration suggests Colorado lawmakers have a lot of soulsearching to do. And if that argument is too Pollyanna, what about the fact that the program is part of Colorado state law? Isn’t supporting the rule of law a conservative value?
Moderate Republicans and Democrats who have supported the program from the start ought to find a way to pressure the hardliners into allowing the program to be funded by the fees it would generate from those paying to use it. The governor ought to force the issue.
In a state as large and geographically diverse as Colorado, the metro area’s transit system is hardly sufficient to support this population.
For the safety of all drivers, the unconscionable handling of this program should be reformed, and reasonably funded.