Ritter to sign car fee increase bill on Monday | AspenTimes.com

Ritter to sign car fee increase bill on Monday

Colleen SlevinThe Associated PressAspen, CO Colorado

DENVER Gov. Bill Ritter plans to sign a bill Monday that would raise vehicle registration fees, a move he says will create thousands of jobs and fix roadways and bridges.The bill headed to the governor’s desk Friday after the Senate voted to give it final approval just before the halfway point of the Legislature’s 120-day session.Democratic lawmakers said they want to start repairs as soon as possible and put laid off construction workers back to work. Most Republicans and a few Democrats objected, saying it was a bad idea to raise fees during a recession.The Senate kept it moving Friday by agreeing to changes made in the House to phase in the increases over three years instead of two. The bill headed to Ritter’s desk would raise $250 million once the fees are in full effect.Under the bill dubbed FASTER for Funding Advancements for Surface Transportation & Economic Recovery owners of passenger cars and sport utility vehicles will ultimately pay an extra $41 a year. Owners of all vehicles from scooters to semitrailers would also have to pay a road fee and a bridge fee based on the vehicle’s weight classification.The bill 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. They could use some of the money raised by tolling to pay for mass transit.In the Senate, Republicans accused majority Democrats of “tone deafness.””What you are asking for is too much. We are hurting too much, we can’t afford anymore,” said Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker.Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, warned that Democrats might suffer in the next election for raising fees.After the debate, Senate President Peter Groff said 46,000 Coloradans have lost their jobs in the last year and the state has 126 bridges listed in poor condition.”Those are the numbers I care about. I think the numbers in November 2009 will take care of themselves,” he said.Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry said Republicans were willing to back a flat fee hike of $20 a vehicle if Democrats committed to finding more money within the state’s budget to pay for transportation. Lawmakers are already in the middle of trying to plug a $625 million shortfall in this year’s budget but he said they could have started with setting aside $10 million a year and gradually raise it every year and using more severance tax revenue.Penry also accused Democrats of hypocrisy because they’re also pushing a proposal to end automatic transfers to transportation projects during good economic years. No extra money is expected until at least 2010-11 when an estimated $108 million could go to roads under the existing spending rules.Democratic Sen. John Morse, the sponsor of the spending limit bill, said spending on roads only in good years doesn’t make sense. 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. He said lawmakers would still be able to set aside money for transportation but can also make sure that safety net programs are funded during the recession.The governor’s task force on transportation estimates that the state would need an extra $500 million a year to keep up with repairs to its existing roads and bridges. That’s partly because gas tax revenue hasn’t kept up with the cost of construction as fuel efficiency has increased.

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