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Lawmakers seek faster way to solve transit woes

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By Greg Romberg

Deteriorating bridges across the state, congestion that robs us of time, declining gas taxes because cars are more efficient, and an economy on the fritz. What’s a state to do? If Gov. Bill Ritter, state Sen. Dan Gibbs and state Rep. Joe Rice have their way, we’ll go faster.

Faster? It’s the acronym they’ve come up with for their transportation plan: Funding Advancement for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery. The plan would generate funds through increased car registration fees, tolling of roads when they are most congested, increased fines for people who don’t register their vehicles or do it late, higher fees for oversized and overweight vehicles, and a fee on rental cars. In the meantime, it will look for a pilot program to decide if a fee based on the miles a car is driven is a better way to fund roads than the state’s current 22 cents per gallon tax on gasoline.

Transportation funding has long been a hot topic. One of Ritter’s first actions upon taking office two years ago was to form a blue ribbon commission to look at the state’s transportation needs and funding sources. When no action was taken, both sides blamed each other. The urgency for this year’s plan has been fostered by the bad economy. Using the catchy phrase “Jobs by June,” proponents say finding money to fix roads and bridges will boost road construction jobs, which have a significant multiplier effect as the money earned by construction workers is spread through the state’s economy.

The complicated bill (the latest draft is more than 70 pages long) is still subject to refinements but will have a lot of momentum. It should be introduced this week or early next week. Bill proponents are doing their best to create bipartisan support, and business and labor leaders are already on board.

Aside from political considerations, the most difficult task will be to convince cash-strapped drivers that the increased fees will be to their ultimate benefit. Look for arguments about the current hidden costs to Coloradans of wear and tear on their cars and lost productivity. When it’s all said and done, expect progress this year, but the process of getting there will have its ups and downs.

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The Jefferson County school board continues its work to address budget concerns in lieu of the failure of proposals to increase the mill levy and establish new bond projects last November.

Budget information can be found on the school district’s website (www.jeffcopublicschools.org).

Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm.