Steamboat Springs Routt County officials are more receptive to a proposal that would increase vehicle registration and rental fees than they were to one that would impose a $5 toll on Interstate 70 from Floyd Hill to the Eisenhower Tunnel.
Both bills in the Colorado Legislature are aimed at confronting a shortfall in funding for the Colorado Department of Transportation, but Routt County commissioners Diane Mitsch Bush and Doug Monger said the toll proposal unfairly burdened the Western Slope in confronting a statewide need. The toll bill, Senate Bill 213, passed two committees, but sponsor Sen. Andy McElhany, R-Colorado Springs, spiked the bill last week because it lacked enough votes to pass the entire Senate.
Senate Bill 244, also known as the Transportation Infrastructure Preservation Act, passed the Senate's State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on a 3-2 vote Monday and was referred with amendments to the Senate's Appropriations Committee. The bill's primary sponsors are Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo; Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton; and Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West.
The bill would raise money dedicated for repair, reconstruction or replacement of structurally deficient bridges and other high priority projects for the state highway system. Revenues would include a $6 a day car rental fee, a $25 increase in vehicle registration fees and additional fees on some vehicles five years and older. CDOT, which supports the legislation, estimates the bill would increase statewide transportation funding by up to $91 million in the next fiscal year and more than $200 million annually thereafter.
"Probably it's fair, it's equitable, and it probably doesn't target the Western Slope like the tolling did unfairly," Monger said. "It's not the silver bullet. It's a step in the right direction."
State Rep. Al White, R-Hayden, opposes the bill.
"I think it's going to end up costing everyone who's got a car a whole lot of money," said White, who said he is wary of bills that show up late in the legislative session and don't get the attention they deserve. "We've been in session 120 days. Where's this concept been all along?"
Among his concerns, White said he does not care for the daily fee on renting a car.
"I believe this would put Colorado somewhere in the top 10 if not the top five in cost to rent a car," he said. "That's not a distinction we want for our tourism industry."
George Krawzoff, a member of the Colorado Transportation Commission and former transportation director for the city of Steamboat Springs, said the bill has his reluctant support.
"The sliding scale they have for car registrations - I don't understand why they want to charge more for older vehicles," he said. "People who are driving older vehicles are probably doing so for a reason."
Despite this and other concerns, Krawzoff said the state's shortfall in transportation funding is so dire that he must support the bill. In a report released earlier this year, the Colorado Transportation Finance and Implementation Panel identified a $155 billion funding gap by 2030 if no new sources of revenue are created for CDOT. The panel recommended five new funding sources it estimated would generate $1.5 billion annually. Although Senate Bill 244 wouldn't create near that amount, Krawzoff said something is better than nothing.
"Something's got to be done, and this is the only proposal likely to come forward," he said. "I think it's a good first step to take, even if there's elements of it that aren't perfect."
Evan Dreyer, a spokesman for Gov. Bill Ritter, stopped short of endorsing the bill.
"The governor is supportive of having a full airing of this issue in the next week and a half of this Legislature," Dreyer said. "He has said all along that the state of transportation funding in Colorado is in a quiet crisis."
Dreyer said Ritter sees the bill as an opportunity to gauge residents' and politicians' appetites for the fees proposed. If the bill does not pass before the Legislature's scheduled May 7 adjournment, Dreyer said transportation funding would be on the governor's priority list for the next legislative session.
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