Kopp rips boost in vehicle registration fees

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Effort to raise funds for road repairs too taxing for Coloradans, he says

By AJ Vicens

South Jeffco’s state senator says an increase in vehicle registration fees will take money from Colorado taxpayers at a time when they can least afford to give it.

“My issue with this bill was that we’re in a recession, and family budgets are crunched,” said Sen. Mike Kopp, a Littleton Republican. “Maybe now is not the best time to gin up a very large new fee that functions basically like a tax on people.”

His comment came during an online town hall meeting March 24 to discuss the state economy and government spending. Kopp has held three such meetings through Gotomeeting.com, an online meeting service.

Kopp began the March 24 meeting with a discussion of FASTER, the transportation funding bill signed into law by Gov. Bill Ritter on March 2 that will generate $250 million annually through increased vehicle registration fees. Car owners will see the fees increase by $32 in 2009, and up to $41 by 2012. The bill’s sponsors — Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, and Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton — say the money is needed because gas tax revenues have gone down and the state needs money for transportation repairs.

“With this bill, we'll be able to begin work on the many unsafe bridges and roads all across this state — work that has been neglected for far too long," Ritter said when he signed the bill. “And at a time when the entire country is suffering from a recession, this legislation will let us save jobs, create jobs and help us get our economy moving again.”

Kopp said he understands the need for transportation repairs but believes the bill takes too much money from people’s pockets.

“Just address this year the bridges we have to address,” Kopp said March 24. The state must fix about nine bridges this year, Kopp said, and should have sought only enough money to fix those and the worst roads.

That would have cost about $50 million, “which is quite a ways away from a quarter billion dollars,” Kopp said.

Deborah Evans, a Jeffco resident participating in the meeting, asked Kopp how federal stimulus money would be spent, and why the extra registration fees are necessary if the state is getting hundreds of millions of dollars for transportation.

“That has been a major source of frustration for me,” Kopp told Evans. He said the state should see between $400 million and $500 million in federal stimulus money for roads and bridges, “but it’s not exactly clear where that money will go.”

Kopp said he “actually (believes the money) will be used fairly well,” but he’s concerned that there isn’t a concrete plan.

Kopp also disagreed with a provision in the bill that allows for tolling existing roads.

“That was a non-starter for me,” Kopp said. “My thought is that we’ve already paid for those roads that are laid down,” adding that the provision is akin to “double taxation.”

Kopp acknowledged he is “not aware of any concrete plans right now to put toll booths up on existing roads, but I’ve heard various rumors about where you might see this.” There are no plans for toll booths on existing South Jeffco roads, Kopp said.

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.