GOP Senate caucus rejects FASTER; bill moves on to House

(Photo/jeco, Flickr)
(Photo/jeco, Flickr)

Lawmakers, after initially singing Kumbaya on a transportation funding bill that would raise vehicle registration fees to pay for road and bridge repairs, went their partisan ways late Wednesday when the possibility of tolling on existing roads was reintroduced.

That prompted a Democrat-led state Senate vote of approval by a 19-16 mostly party-line margin late Wednesday, and a mass exodus by Republicans.

Earlier in the day, FASTER (Funding Advancement for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery) looked like it would have at least some GOP support when a controversial Vehicle Mile Traveled (VMT) pilot program was dropped.

But Senate Bill 108’s sponsor, Sen. Dan Gibbs (D-Silverthorne), who last year led a protest on the Capitol steps against tolling on I-70, opted to put the possibility of tolling approved by local jurisdictions back into the bill.

“We feel like they’ve made a strategic decision to power this through,” Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry said in a Denver Post story late Wednesday. “In the end, this bill is substantially the same as when it was introduced.”

Gibbs told the Post it was time to get something done on transportation: “You get to a point where you have to move forward. We’re not waiting for the 11th hour.”

Now FASTER, which would raise registration fees $32 per vehicle this year (raising a little over $200 million) and $41 per vehicle in subsequent years -– raising around $250 million a year to fix deficient roads and bridges -– moves on to the House. The issue of tolling could be hotly debated there as well.

Rep. Christine Scanlan (D-Dillon) told the Colorado Independent on Tuesday that she has a problem with the concept.

“With the tolling, the local community would have the power of whether or not it would be something they’d be interested in pursuing,” Scanlan said. “As a rule, I don’t like tolling. It hurts our economy more than it helps any of our transportation needs.”

Gov. Bill Ritter met with House leadership Wednesday to help pave the way for SB 108, which he strongly supports.

“It will let us fix and maintain structurally deficient bridges and unsafe roadways, and it will put us on a long-term path toward a modern, 21st century transportation system that is supported by a sustainable funding stream,” Ritter said in a release late Wednesday.