John Andrews: Will car tax undo Democrats?


En route to losing his run for governor of Virginia in 1997, Democrat Don Beyer blamed his loss on "the slogan from hell: No Car Tax."

Unseated as governor of Arkansas, Democrat Bill Clinton in 1980 realized he had "unwisely raised the state motor vehicle tax," writes biographer Nigel Hamilton. A visitor "found him on the floor, bawling like a baby" and railing at Jimmy Carter.

If Coloradans oust Bill Ritter in 2010, our gentlemanly governor will control his emotions better than Slick Willie. But his undoing could be identical to that of Clinton and Beyer - misjudging how mad Americans can get when government messes with their cars, trucks, campers and trailers.

Some genius, maybe the same consultant who's charging the University of Colorado almost a million dollars for logo design, coined the acronym FASTER for Ritter's bill that boosted vehicle registration fees and late penalties, effective July 1. The bill is supposed to raise $250 million a year for roads. But the only thing that's going faster so far is Republican hopes.

The surprise has people steamed. In a puny concession, Ritter offered to roll back the late charges on non-motorized vehicles, such as boat trailers. Thanks a lot. In a defensive crouch, county clerks met citizen anger with canned complaint postcards and extra guards. The brouhaha is far from over.

The average additional hit of $32 per vehicle, or even the maximum penalty of $100, may sound trivial at a time when politicians talk in trillions. But like a candidate's $400 haircut, a Pentagon platinum toilet seat, or that British parliamentarian's moat-cleaning allowance, it's the kind of crazy-making detail that infuriates recession-weary taxpayers.

Insult follows injury when you hear that the last two letters in FASTER - Rep. Joe Rice's legislative masterpiece, which has GOP strategists taking aim at him - stand for "economic recovery." Can Democrats really believe picking our pockets is the right remedy in hard times?

Freda Poundstone, Republican former mayor of Greenwood Village, knows it isn't. The grande dame of citizen petitions in Colorado, author of a 1974 constitutional amendment that bears her name and halted Denver's annexation march, hopes to get on the 2010 ballot with a petition to halt the revenue grab. Her Initiative No. 10, currently gathering signatures, would cut taxes on vehicles, income and phones - VIP for short.

Annual car registrations would be capped at $10, vehicle ownership and sales taxes would phase down, state income tax would drop from 4.63 percent to 4.5 percent with further cuts in fat economic times, and telecom taxes of all sorts would end. Colorado Tax Reform is the sponsoring group. I was an early signer.

Initiative No. 10 gains urgency from a little-noticed 2008 ruling of the state Supreme Court, Barber v. Ritter, which effectively wiped out the inconvenient distinction between what's a tax, subject to TABOR limits and voting, and what's a fee at the Legislature's discretion. Unless we the people can win the next round of ballot battles and rebuild fiscal guardrails, Colorado could follow California over the cliff.

This election will be a doozy. Ritter wants rid of TABOR, even though Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore in their new book "Rich States, Poor States," crunch numbers to prove it's been "a boon to the economy of the state," 10th strongest nationally since 1997. But disgusted motorists may want to be rid of Ritter and his party. Then there's Poundstone with her petition, and that Clear the Bench campaign seeking to fire four justices.

The political rehab for automobile casualties, where Beyer and Clinton once checked in, could be admitting a Colorado inmate 15 months from now.

John Andrews, of Centennial, was president of the Colorado Senate in 2003-05. He is director of the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University, a member of the Conservative Leadership Counsel of Northwest Colorado and a radio talk show host. E-mail John at


Doug Matthews 7 years, 8 months ago

I bought a utility trailer this spring, and when it had the temporary tag, I used it to haul some things. I parked it for several months, and then went to get a license plate for it. I was charged $75 in penalties, that's $25 per month for every month it was not being used, because I delayed in buying a license plate. How many people have vehicles that they just don't use, maybe a plow truck, trailer, or motorcycle, that they will be hit with this "non-use tax" when they go to the courthouse to renew theior plates? How many people hold off renewing a plate because of temporary economic conditions, only to be charged an extra fee, up to $100, for doing so? It is just an ill-advised grab at people's cash when they can least afford it. Please write, call, or email your representatives and Governor to get rid of this horrible "fee" that the state is collecting!


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