GOP takes aim at higher vehicle fees in Colorado
The Associated Press
DENVER – Democratic lawmakers say Colorado drivers who have been paying – and complaining about – higher auto registration fees and late penalties for the last two years shouldn’t expect the added costs to go away soon.
Republicans have railed against the fees, and Republican candidates last year spent a lot of time talking on the campaign trail about repealing them.
But with Colorado facing another skimpy year of tax receipts, and many roads and bridges still in need of repair, repeals are unlikely to clear the Democratic Senate, and Republicans haven’t suggested how to make up the tax money lost by lowered tag fees and late fines.
“They talk out of both sides of their mouth,” House Democratic Leader Sal Pace complained, saying that Republicans say they don’t like tag fees but also argue for more roads spending. “They attack the registration fees without offering an alternative.”
The Funding Advancements for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery fees, passed by a Democratic Legislature in 2009 and signed into law by former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, added about $30 to $40 a year to most drivers’ registration fees. The plan, known as FASTER, also boosted late fees from $10 a month, which a county could waive entirely, to a mandatory fine of $25 a month up to a maximum of $100. Many drivers howled.
“This has probably been the biggest complaint that I’ve had,” said Rep. J. Paul Brown, a Republican from Ignacio.
Republicans are now in charge of the House and are promising to tackle the unpopular FASTER fees.
A House committee Thursday took the first steps, voting to ratchet back higher late fees that raise some $25 million a year for transportation projects.
“People have to choose whether they’re going to feed their family, whether they’re going to keep the house heated, or whether they’re going to pay their tag fees. They just can’t afford it,” said Rep. Randy Baumgardner, a Republican from Hot Sulphur Springs and the sponsor of House Bill 1084.
Other Republicans have suggested repealing the FASTER fees altogether. A third bill, already rejected by a House committee, would have ended FASTER funding for transit and bicycle projects, sending all the money to roads.
Democrats say the attacks on FASTER are meant to fulfill campaign promises, not to make serious changes to how roads are funded.
The Colorado Department of Transportation and Colorado Municipal League both argued Thursday against reducing the late fees. A lobbyist for the CML reminded lawmakers mulling the fine change that drivers only pay them when they break the rules.
“We think it’s a matter of personal responsibility to comply with the law,” Mark Radtke said.
Republicans aren’t buying the civic-responsibility argument. They insist that they’ll keep trying to chip away at FASTER fees, which they decried as illegal tax hikes when Ritter signed them into law.
“This isn’t a campaign promise. This is a serious legislative proposal,” said Republican Sen. Shawn Mitchell of Broomfield, a sponsor of a bill to repeal FASTER in its entirety. Mitchell says the Legislature should make up the money with general funds, not additional tag fees and late penalties – though he didn’t have specifics.
“The General Assembly needs to step up and provide sufficient general fund support for our roads,” Mitchell said. “We shouldn’t rely on punitive fees and registration to fund things we’re not willing to fund ourselves.”
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