Saturday, January 16, 2010
Steamboat Springs When the Colorado General Assembly convened Wednesday, state Sen. Al White wasted no time introducing a bill to repeal sections of a law known as FASTER that increased fees on late vehicle registrations.
The Hayden Republican’s Senate Bill 10-004 would repeal a mandatory $25 per month fine for late registrations, capped at $100, that went into effect July 1, 2009. White’s drafted legislation would reinstate the state’s previous system, which gave counties the option of charging a late registration fee of as much as $10. Increased late fines were just one provision of FASTER, which stands for Funding Advancement for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery. The law was aimed at raising funds to invest in transportation infrastructure projects and roadway safety.
Rescinding the increased fines would entail passing up an estimated $19.4 million in revenue statewide for the 2010-11 fiscal year, according to a projection from the Colorado Legislative Council staff. But for White, who sees the increased fines as an “unintended consequence” of the FASTER legislation, the inequities of the current law outweigh the financial gains.
“If you’re registering a $50,000 Mercedes, a $100 late filing fee — when you’re paying hundreds to register that car already — the difference is not that much,” White said Friday. “But for lower-end value vehicles, of which we have a lot in rural Colorado, it is going to make a difference.”
Reverting to the old fine system also will mean passing up revenue for Routt County, which received more than $38,000 from the new late fee structure from July through December 2009. These funds, along with revenue for the county generated by other FASTER initiatives, go into the county’s Road and Bridge Department budget. At the end of 2009, that meant an additional $201,804 for things such as maintaining county roads and clearing snow.
Even with a funding bump, the department is short on funds, Routt County Finance Director Dan Strnad said. With a total Road and Bridge budget of $10.9 million for 2010, the county is about $500,000 behind on funding for infrastructure projects such as replacing roads and bridges, exactly the kind of initiatives FASTER fee increases were meant to fund.
When it comes to filling budgetary gaps, Strnad said, the late fine could come in handy, even after late registrants mend their ways to avoid the higher fees.
“Over time, I think you’re going to see late payment fees going down,” Strnad said. “But they are one way to get registration fees paid in a timely manner. From a budget perspective, it’s a good thing because you’ll have money coming in faster.”
The fact that residents will begin to pay their registration fees on time to avoid the late-payment penalty is evidence that the fine system is not a long-term path to curing budget woes, White said.
“When the bill originally passed, the projection was that there would be zero funding from penalties,” White said. He conceded that the unexpected revenue from the FASTER legislation will make it harder to gain support for his bill.
White isn’t alone in thinking the cost to residents outweighs any fiscal gains for Routt County from higher late fees.
Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger sees the less than $40,000 generated by the increased late fines in 2009 as a paltry contribution to a budget as large as the Road and Bridge Department’s.
“It’s too little reward for what it costs citizens,” he said. He added that the high fees are “a deterrent to driving safe vehicles and an incentive to not get a license. I would rather entice people to be legal.”