Governor to raise Colorado car fees near weakened bridge
DENVER, Colorado ” A bill to raise vehicle registration fees to pay for bridge and highway repairs is on the verge of becoming law.
Gov. Bill Ritter plans to sign the measure (Senate Bill 108) Monday near a bridge over Interstate 25 in Thornton. The bridge is among 126 currently rated as poor by state engineers and, at a cost of $19 million, could be among those replaced with the fee money.
The bill phases in the fee hikes over three years. For the owners of passenger cars and sport utility vehicles, it would ultimately mean an extra $41 a year.
It would also impose a $2 daily fee on all car rentals and open the door to tolling on existing highways if surrounding communities back the idea. The fees would take effect starting in July but, once the bill is signed, the state can start selling bonds on the expected revenue.
Democratic legislative leaders pushed to pass the bill quickly because they say it will create thousands of construction jobs and help the state catch up on maintenance and repairs to highways and bridges. Most Republicans and a few Democrats objected, saying it was a bad idea to raise fees during a recession.
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Also Monday, the Senate is set to vote on another measure (Senate Bill 228) that relates to transportation funding. Republicans plan to use procedural moves to slow down the debate in protest.
Right now, the state’s general fund budget, which covers items like public schools, prisons and higher education, can grow by only 6 percent each year. Anything that’s left over, if revenues are high enough, goes toward transportation. The bill would wipe out those requirements and allow lawmakers to decide where to spend state tax dollars.
Majority Democrats had originally planned to vote on that bill on Friday after giving final approval to the fee hike bill, but Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, asked that the 38-page bill be read at length. After about a half hour of reading, Kopp agreed to withdraw his request and Senate Majority Leader Brandon Shaffer said the bill would instead be debated Monday.
Kopp said it didn’t make sense to ask people to pay more in fees while wiping out automatic funding transfers to transportation.
“We don’t have votes. We have procedure that we can use and we will,” Kopp said.
Democratic Sen. John Morse, the sponsor of the spending limit bill and a backer of the new fees, said spending on roads only in good years doesn’t provide a steady stream of money. Because of the large rises and falls in funding, Morse said, extra funding for roads has averaged out to be an extra $100 million a year.
Morse said lawmakers need more flexibility to be able to spend money on safety net programs during the recession and can also set aside some money for transportation.
The governor’s task force on transportation estimates that the state needs to spend $500 million a year to keep up with repairs to its existing roads and bridges. That’s partly because gasoline tax revenue hasn’t kept up with the cost of construction as fuel efficiency has increased.