Munro: Emptying our wallets FASTER than ever
Back in March 2009 when then Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law the bill that became known as FASTER, much fanfare accompanied the anticipated $252 million annually the law was supposed to generate for fixing Colorado’s roads and bridges.
A year later, state lawmakers were already greedily reaching into the cookie jar and using license fee revenues to fund operating costs of the Department of Motor Vehicles.
So much for truth in advertising.
And now, one of the most onerous aspects of the FASTER bill — late registration fees that can cost up to $100 — has become such a staple of Colorado’s increasingly gluttonous bureaucratic appetite, that certain lawmakers are loathe even to allow bills to repeal the fines to see the light of day.
And so Senate Bill 18, which passed the state Senate in February, languishes in what has become this year’s legislative graveyard in the House, the Committee on State, Veterans, & Military Affairs. There, according to the Legislature’s website, its status as of March 18 was “Postpone Indefinitely.”
The partisan nature of this legislative sleight of hand notwithstanding, what Colorado has managed to accomplish since the passage of FASTER is drive itself onto the podium, along with Alabama and Arizona (first and second, respectively) as the states with the highest costs to register a vehicle.
Congratulations, ladies and gentlemen.
According to a June 29, 2014, article in Forbes, average state and local sales taxes, state registration fees and dealer doc fees amount to 13.8 percent of vehicle value in Colorado when owners pay at the DMV window. No wonder armed guards have been posted at some DMV offices on the Front Range to suppress the angry natives.
I recently tried to contain my contempt when I was slapped with a $100 fine for having the temerity to allow a dual sport motorcycle to sit in storage for a year while we moved multiple times. Since its registration had expired for nearly a year, I was hit with the maximum, $25 a month for four months.
The upshot is I have now paid nearly $310 to register a $1,400, 260 pound machine that gets 70 mpg for the privilege of operating it for 24 months on Colorado roads. In reality, it’s more like 18 months, because for all its attributes, it is not something I’m given to riding while the snow is flying.
Lawmakers still haven’t fixed this situation with respect to boats and trailers, either, many of which are routinely taken out of service temporarily. And under FASTER, even the least expensive vehicles cost good money to register.
I have a small, inexpensive utility trailer that when it was delivered brand new to my door in the wilds of Wyoming about 12 years ago, for the princely total of $199 including shipping, it cost me $5 to register it there. It now costs nearly $50 a year in Colorado, so I have actually paid the state of Colorado considerably in excess of what the trailer cost me in the first place to keep it registered here.
This is ludicrous and amounts to egregiously regressive taxation. The fees escalated under FASTER by about $29 annually for a small car to $71 for a large truck or expensive luxury vehicle. The owner of the former is paying a great deal in terms of percentage increase than the latter.
And the fines … well, in many cases registrations are being paid late because people are struggling to afford the bill. So, as is increasingly typical of the plutocrats who tend to dominate our legislative processes, they slap a punitive fine on those least able to shoulder the burden.
And who’s defending this sort of activity by making sure the fines remain intact? That would be none other than those staunch defenders of working men and women everywhere — who, not incidentally, were responsible for FASTER in the first place — the Democrats in the Colorado Legislature.
That sound you hear is a Bronx cheer for them echoing through the halls of the Statehouse.
By most accounts Colorado suffers from a backlog of needed road and bridge repairs. The exact amount is open to debate. Nonetheless, FASTER was and remains a lousy and unfair way to fund these projects.
Far better and more egalitarian would be an increase in the state gas tax which, at 22 cents per gallon, ranks the Colorado 33rd out of the 50 states. While I am not advocating that outright, it would at least have the virtue of costing drivers an amount proportional to what kind of vehicle they drive and how much they drive it, and therefore how much impact they are having on Colorado highways.
The catch is that raising the gas tax would, under TABOR, require a vote of the people, an uncertain prospect at best. FASTER revenue, the theory goes, was a fee and therefore fell outside TABOR’s revenue limits. A legal challenge was mounted to this notion and opponents show few signs, thankfully, of relenting.
Meanwhile, passage of FASTER had immediate political ramifications. Ritter bailed from seeking re-election, realizing he was political road kill in the wake of the bill, as did one of the legislature’s two primary sponsors. The other one was defeated at the next election.
Colorado motorists, on the other hand, had no option to leave FASTER behind. We are now saddled with the resulting train wreck. If lawmakers can’t bring themselves to rectify their predecessors’ mistake, more of them should pay with their political careers until we no longer have to suffer FASTER’s indignities.
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