Hikes in Colorado vehicle fees advancing at state Capitol
DENVER, Colorado ” A proposal to raise vehicle fees and potentially impose tolls to pay for bridge and road repairs is advancing at the state Capitol despite objections from truckers and rental car companies.
The Senate Finance Committee backed the measure (Senate Bill 108) on Thursday, the second vote of support for the measure this week. The committee decided to stick with a provision that allows the new fees to rise with inflation and rejected a proposal from Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, to limit future tolling to new roads only.
The bill sponsored by Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, would raise about $200 million the first year and $250 million the second by adding fees to vehicle registrations. It also opens the door to tolling on existing highways if surrounding communities support the idea, and exploring whether to do away with the gas tax and instead charge drivers based on the miles they travel each year.
Under the plan, owners of passenger cars and many sport utility vehicles would have to pay an extra $32 when they register their vehicles this year. The fee would rise to $41 the following year and then increase with inflation every year after that.
The bill goes after newcomers who fail to register their car in Colorado by raising the late registration fine from $10 to $25.
There would also be a $2 daily fee tacked on to all car rentals and the surcharge on oversized truck permits would double.
Representatives of rental car companies and the trucking industry think an increase in the gas tax or the sales tax would be more fair because it would spread the cost of paying for roads among more people. But backers say there’s not enough time to put the issue to a vote, arguing that the immediate increased spending could save thousands of construction jobs in the coming months.
The state constitution says that any tax increase must be approved by voters but the Legislature still has the power to raise fees.
State transportation chief Russ George defended the fee approach, comparing raising road maintenance fees to fee hikes imposed by water and sewer utilities.
“Time is money. The longer we wait to maintain our system, the more costly it becomes,” said George, a Republican and former House speaker.
Democrats have been negotiating with Republicans to try to win their support for the bill, but so far none have signed on. Some of the sticking points are how high the fees should be and whether the state can find money from other sources, like severance tax revenue, to pay for roads.
In a speech at the Colorado Contractors Association later Thursday, Gov. Bill Ritter urged members to lobby lawmakers to pass the bill and talk to their friends and colleagues about it. He said he wanted to build bipartisan support for it but later said that some Republicans see the proposal as an issue they could use to run against Democrats later.
“We need your help,” Ritter told the group assembled at Invesco Field.
The bill must still be approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee before it could make it to the full Senate for a vote.