Ever since the federal government figured out it could send taxpayers' money back to the states with strings attached, state governments have had to play by the feds' rules to get their full share of their own money.
Georgia currently sends more money to the federal government than it gets back in federal expenditures. A tiny part of that is because state lawmakers have been unwilling to close a near meaningless loophole in seat-belt laws.
That has to change, and this year's fiscal crisis might be the only way to make it happen.
Georgia has long complied with the requirement that drivers and passengers wear seat belts in order to receive federal highway funds. But a near-sacred element of the rural South has been the one holdout: Pickup trucks.
While drivers and passengers, and all children, are required by state law to be secured in all vehicles, adults can drive or ride in pickups legally without buckling up.
Rural lawmakers in Georgia long have kept the requirement off the books - and as a result, the state has lost some $4 million each year in federal highway funds.
Don't like seat belt laws? Frankly, we don't either, any more than we like helmet laws for motorcyclists. Adults should be free to endanger their own lives as much as they see fit; it's their business.
But it is also remarkably stupid to not buckle up. And thanks to the heavy hand of the feds, protecting that stupidity means we send $4 million of our tax money to New York and Chicago rather than having it to spend on Georgia's own highways.
State lawmakers should close that loophole and simply require seat belts for everyone in all vehicles operating on the public highways. To not do so also would be remarkably stupid.
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