It was a hike in vehicle registration fees meant to raise $250 million a year to fix the 125 bridges around the state deemed structurally deficient, and it has become a rallying cry for Republicans around the state bent on recapturing seats in both the House and Senate next fall.
Some in the GOP have vowed to try to repeal what they claim is an unfair tax levied by an out-of-control Democratic Party, and blasting FASTER also is seen as one of the best ways to unseat Gov. Bill Ritter in November.
But two Western Slope lawmakers from both sides of the aisle say FASTER may be a necessary evil until a long-term transportation funding source can be put in place but that the current version of the law should be tweaked this coming legislative session to make it more fair.
“I’m carrying a bill to basically repeal the provisions of Senate Bill 108 that created the $25 per month, $100 maximum late registration penalty and put it back into the form that it was before 108 passed, which was a maximum $10 penalty waivable by the clerk and recorder’s office,” said Sen. Al White, R-Hayden.
White said the fiscal note on the original bill showed late penalties would only yield a modest amount of state revenue, but that in reality they have accumulated between $10 million and $14 million in the first six months. That’s not fair to people on the Western Slope or Eastern Plains with farm or work vehicles they only use a few weeks or months out of the year.
“That was an unintended consequence of that legislation,” White said. “You get somebody with a $75 value utility trailer paying $100 plus registration expenses to get a tag on it.”
Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon, agrees.
“It’s clear that we have to do something with the late fees, and I agree with Al that that wasn’t thought through with the whole perspective of how it was actually being implemented or how people are having to deal with it,” she said.
As for a long-term fix for the state’s crumbling roads and bridges, White said this upcoming session isn’t the right time to deal with that tough but critical question.
A governor’s blue ribbon commission determined the state needs about $500 million a year in additional funding just to maintain the road and bridge system at its current level. White said even FASTER is falling far short of revenue goals because of the recession and fewer people buying and registering new cars.
“It’s falling short of the projections by millions, and so if we’re not going to pay for it this way, we need to find some other way to pay for it and I don’t know what the answer is,” White said. “We’ve got FASTER in place for now, so let’s deal with it for the time being and hopefully when the economy returns perhaps we can consider other revenue means, but I’m not going to suggest that we need to do anything further at this time.”
Scanlan agrees that in this budget-challenged year the time is not right to try to implement a long-term transportation funding fix.
“The irony with FASTER is it’s just a Band-Aid fix,” she said. “It is in no way the whole fix that the state is going to have to look towards, and we are going to need to at some point put something on the ballot to voters that makes sense to them and can address the 40 percent of our roads that are in poor or deteriorating condition.”
She added that tolling – an issue that drew heated debate last session – is an unlikely scenario for the session that starts next week.
“I haven’t heard anything about tolling,” Scanlan said. “FASTER has a provision in it that would allow tolling if all of the impacted jurisdictions agree, and they did kind of look at that at the Northwest Parkway piece of it, but none of that’s come through. I don’t believe any of that is palatable to people right now.”