Al White to challenge vehicle fees
Senator’s potential bill would reduce late registration charges
December 31, 2009
Steamboat Springs — State Sen. Al White said he plans to sponsor a bill in 2010 that would reduce late vehicle registration fees implemented this year.
White, a Hayden Republican, said his bill would revoke a provision of Funding Advancements for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery, or FASTER, that charges drivers $25 a month for late vehicle registrations. State lawmakers approved the FASTER legislation in March to raise — in figures cited at the time — about $252 million annually for transportation projects across the state through increased vehicle fees. FASTER took effect July 1.
White is a member of the Legislature's Joint Budget Committee and broke party ranks earlier this year to support FASTER, citing a dire need to boost state transportation funding. But he said Wednesday that the late registration fees have resulted in an "unintended consequence" of the bill that needs to be addressed and is unfair to some constituents.
"It created a lot of animosity for one thing, across the ranks, and secondly, an inequity for sure, when someone is being charged a $100 late fee to license a $75-value utility trailer," White said.
He said his bill would return the late vehicle registration fee to the pre-FASTER rate: a maximum of $10, regardless of how many months are involved, that could be waived by municipal motor vehicle officials.
Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland and county Accounting Manager Carol Comeau said the county collected $120,385 in late vehicle registration fees from July 1 to Dec. 1. Of that amount, $90,925 went to the state, and the county retained $29,460. The county collected $446,365 in additional FASTER-related fees in that time, Comeau said, and has retained a total of $190,097 in FASTER-related revenues.
Comeau said Routt County receives its allocations from the new fees as part of the state's monthly Highway User Tax Fund payment.
White said FASTER legislation never projected significant revenue from late registration fees.
"My argument is we never anticipated raising any revenue from there, so how can we miss what we never anticipated receiving in the first place?" he said Wednesday, noting that the funds go to the Colorado Department of Transportation and wouldn't help the state's ailing general fund, which he said is facing a $1.2 billion shortfall in 2010-11.
White added that should his bill fail, revenue from late registration fees likely would drop anyway as people get used to the new policy.
"I think even if (the fee) stayed in place, revenues it raised would probably decline by 75 percent — so I don't think it will be that much lost revenue in the long run," he said.
Comeau seconded that notion.
"There is some thinking that the fees will diminish as the public responds to the penalty by paying registration fees on time," she wrote in a Wednesday e-mail.
Nancy Shanks, regional spokeswoman for CDOT, said there is one FASTER-funded project in the Northwest Colorado region for the fiscal year 2010, which started July 1. That project is a $1.8 million culvert replacement on U.S. Highway 40 east and west of Steamboat Springs.
In January and February, she said, CDOT staff will update its list of FASTER projects, which she said would be affected without late registration fee revenues.
As the bill was debated earlier this year, supporters of FASTER said it would help repair 125 structurally deficient bridges and 40 percent of roads in the state that are in poor condition. The bill was expected to generate $252 million a year, about half of what Gov. Bill Ritter's Transportation Finance and Implementation Panel said was necessary to maintain existing infrastructure.
White said FASTER revenues are falling "significantly short of what was anticipated" as people buy and register fewer new vehicles during the economic recession.
Many state lawmakers announced opposition this week to CDOT plans to leave nearly 2,800 miles of rural state highways — carrying 1,000 or fewer vehicles per day —unplowed from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. this winter. White said the plowing debate is symptomatic of CDOT's financial troubles.
"If this is the direction that we're headed, then we absolutely need to find some ways to fund highways," White said about the plowing decision. FASTER "was a start down that road."
White represents Senate District 8, which includes all or parts of Garfield, Eagle, Rio Blanco, Moffat, Routt and Jackson counties.
Weinland noted that starting Monday, the county motor vehicle office will be open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, coinciding with the end of the county's furlough program for employees.