Lawmakers nix bill to raise car fees to pay for road repairs
DENVER – State lawmakers on Friday abandoned efforts to raise car fees to pay for highway and bridge repairs after failing to reach a deal Republicans and Democrats could agree on.Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, asked a Senate committee to kill his bill that would have raised about $300 million a year through a combination of fees on Colorado drivers and rental cars. He said talks would continue after lawmakers left the Capitol next week and could introduce another bill next year.”Safety of bridges and highways is everyone’s issue in this building,” Tapia said, in front of large photographs of crumbling bridges.Democrats control the House and Senate and could have passed a bill to raise fees this year without Republican support if they stuck together. But they tried to work with Republicans, traditional backers of increased highway funding, to build support for what could have been an unpopular move with voters in an election year.During the talks, Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, proposed scaling back Tapia’s proposal by tossing out a controversial $72 annual fee for older cars and cutting the fees for Colorado drivers to $10 a year and $3-a-day for rental cars. But the negotiations broke down partly because Republicans rejected imposing any fees on Colorado drivers, at least for now.There was also resistance to tapping severance tax and federal energy revenue from groups that stand to benefit from them – oil and gas communities and higher education.Romer said without the energy dollars the plan would have only provided between $100 and $150 million a year, far less than the $500 million the state estimates it needs to keep up with repairs. Romer and other Democrats said it would be better to keep talking and return with a more complete solution.”We can do the right thing next year rather than something this year,” Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton, said.Next year isn’t an election year, which Romer said could make it easier to pass a solution.Road projects are now funded with the money that is left over after other services, like schools and prisons, are paid for. Republicans said they want to find more money in the existing budget to pay for roads or use energy dollars before looking at raising fees.”We can’t ask the taxpayers to make tough choices if we’re not willing to make tough choices of our own,” Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita said.Gov. Bill Ritter’s transportation panel recommended an extra $100 registration fee for all Colorado drivers but Ritter soon abandoned the idea. The group also suggested later raising gas and sales taxes to pay for roads.But, unlike the panel, Penry said lawmakers have to answer to voters and need to reach their own consensus about the best solution.Romer thinks Republican lawmakers, many of them from rural areas, have an incentive to cooperate with Democrats to prevent “balkanizing” road funding. If there’s no statewide solution eventually, Romer said metro Denver voters could vote to tax themselves to pay for better roads and bridges just as they’ve done to pay for mass transit, leaving rural areas to fend for themselves.
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