States balk at Real ID Act’s price tag

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports on the feelings of some state lawmakers (who are gathering this week for a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures) regarding the impending implementation of the Real ID Act. The crux of the issue for many state lawmakers is just who should pay the act’s costs:

[State leaders at the meeting] railed against their federal counterparts for usurping their authority on issues ranging from education to homeland security — but leaving the states saddled with the bills [...]

The federal government has shifted at least $51 billion in costs over the past two years to state and local governments, according to a report the group released Tuesday. A new federal mandate for a national identification card, something NCSL officials estimate could cost states $13 billion as they scramble to restructure motor vehicle offices, was chief among the state lawmakers’ complaints. The Real ID Act passed in June in an $82 billion military spending bill. It requires states, by 2008, to verify whether license applicants are U.S. citizens or legal residents of the United States.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the law will cost states $100 million to implement over the next five years [...]

The fight over the Real ID Act, then, despite all the troubling technical and privacy issues that we and others have pointed out, may all come down to a fight between states and the federal government over unfunded (or underfunded) mandates and states’ discretion in how to manage their own resources. It will be interesting over the coming months to watch how states (both individually and as a group) handle the matter — we’ll keep you posted.

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