The Colorado Car Tax – er, “vehicle registration fee” increase – brought to you courtesy of the Colorado Supreme Court
Clear The Bench Colorado has alerted Colorado citizens over the last several months to the Colorado General Assembly’s underhanded tactic (Colorado Politics at its worst) of circumventing the TABOR requirement to receive voter approval before imposing or increasing taxes by playing the word game of calling the charges “fees” instead – thanks to a ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court last November:
Governor Ritter, the Colorado Legislature, and the Mullarkey Majority seem to find the requirement to first ask before raising taxes (as required by TABOR) to be rather tiring – and restricting their power to accomplish their goals with your money. What to do, what to do? Simple – creatively define their way out of the restrictions; impose fees, instead of raising taxes – no need to ask the voters first; then just transfer the collected revenue (the ol’ shell game) into the general fund, so as to avoid those pesky restrictions on spending the money…
The most universally despised use of this tactic – and the one affecting the greatest number of Colorado citizens – was last year’s Colorado Car Tax increase, the so-called FASTER bill (SB 108).
It’s even worse than you think – as I discovered by researching the impacts in greater detail for the following article, published in the “Taxed Enough Already” April edition of The Constitutionalist Today monthly newspaper (add it to your “recommended reading” list).
The Colorado Car Tax – It’s Worse Than You Think
The Colorado Car Tax increase passed last year (SB108, the so-called “FASTER” bill) is quite possibly THE most unpopular tax increase in Colorado history – made all the more repugnant by how it became law (evading the TABOR requirement to receive prior voter approval for any new or increased taxes).
The deeply unpopular Car Tax has already contributed to the demise of the political careers of the bill’s main advocates: Governor Bill Ritter, who signed the bill into law, has chosen not to seek re-election rather than suffer the fate of governors in other states, including New Jersey, Virginia, and Arkansas (yes, Bill Clinton suffered his first big electoral defeat after passing a car tax increase his first term) who passed similar tax increases on vehicle registration and ownership. State Senator Dan Gibbs (D-SD16), the bill’s Senate sponsor, has likewise decided not to seek re-election. Only House sponsor Rep. Joe Rice (D-HD38) remains, and he is facing a tough re-election fight in his Republican-leaning district (Littleton) against challenger Kathleen Conti , who is sure to use the car tax issue against him during the campaign.
The Car Tax has also highlighted the role of the Colorado Supreme Court’ “Mullarkey Majority” in aiding and abetting increases in taxes and other “fees” thanks to several rulings against the clear letter of the Colorado Constitution (particularly Article X, Section 20 – the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights) in recent years. The political careers of four of the state Supreme Court justices who ruled to enable this tax increase (among others, including the “Mill Levy Tax Freeze” property tax increase) may also be coming to an end, as they come up for re-election (phrased as a question on the ballot: “Should Justice [name] be retained in office?” with the option to vote yes or “NO”) this November.
So why is the Car Tax (er, “vehicle registration fee”) increase so deeply (and deservedly) unpopular?
One reason is the deeply regressive nature of the tax (er, “fee”) increase – which hurts most those least able to afford it (especially those with lower or fixed incomes, such as blue-collar workers, students, and retired or unemployed individuals). Since newly increased tax (er, package of “fees” – which will go up not just once, but each year through 2012) is now based on vehicle weight, the increase may not seem like much to the latte-sipping Prius-driving set, but makes up a significant portion of the total vehicle registration bill for anyone driving an older, heavier (and incidentally, safer) vehicle.
SB09-108 Registration fee increase total
|2,000 lbs. & under||$22.50||$25.75||$29|
|16,001 lbs & over||$55||$63||$71|
Actually, it’s even worse than you think. The FASTER bill (the Colorado Car Tax) actually consists of TWO new “fees”: a “road safety” surcharge fee, and a “Bridge Fund” fee (that will increase in each of the next two years). The new law also imposes a new “vehicle rental fee” of $2/day – with an exemption for politically-correct “vehicle sharing” arrangements, such as instituted in Boulder and other trendy spots. The two new “fees” – and the additional bureaucracy created for each – have been ignored in most of the reporting about the impact of the Car Tax increase on most citizens.
“Road Safety” Surcharge Fee
(incl. trailers & other “nonmotorized” vehicles)
“Bridge Fund” Fee Rate Schedule
(50% 1st year; 75% 2nd year; 100% 3rd year +)
|$16 Vehicles <=2000 lbs (incl. motorcycles)||$13 Vehicles <=2000 lbs (incl. motorcycles)|
|$23 Vehicles 2000 – 5000 lbs||$18 Vehicles 2000 – 5000 lbs|
|$28 Vehicles 5000 – 10000 lbs||$23 Vehicles 5000 – 10000 lbs|
|$37 Vehicles 10000 – 16000 lbs||$29 Vehicles 10000 – 16000 lbs|
|$39 Vehicles 16000+ lbs||$32 Vehicles 16000+ lbs|
And of course there are the “Late Fees” –
“A late registration penalty of $25 for each month or portion of a month that a vehicle is not registered after the one month grace period, not to exceed $100, will be charged beginning June 1, 2009. Expired temporary permit registrations are also included in the $25 penalty. There is no grace period for permits.”
Late fees are now mandatory – the bill removed existing language allowing clerks to exercise discretion:
The department or the authorized agent registering the vehicle may waive the late fee.
Adding insult to injury, the Car Tax bill also creates entirely new bureaucracies, complete with new staff: the “Bridge Enterprise” and the “Transportation Enterprise” – both of which “operate as a government-owned business” within the Department of Transportation. These “government-owned businesses” not only have “exclusive authority to budget and approve the expenditure of moneys” collected by the Car Tax (er, “fees”), but also have the authority to issue/re-issue bonds and contract for loans or grants. The “enterprises” were also added as entities authorized to use eminent domain to seize private property.
Yet despite all of these revenue-generating and spending powers, the bill’s language explicitly states that both “enterprises” – “shall not be subject to any provisions of Section 20 of Article X of the state Constitution” (i.e. TABOR, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights). They are not constrained, or accountable.
But all of this is necessary “to preserve our crumbling transportation infrastructure,” right? That was the justification for passing the bill – along with claims that any and all “fees” collected “shall be used exclusively for the construction, maintenance, and supervision of the public highways of the state.” Says so right in the legislative language (43-4-810), so it must be true, correct?
Not so much. The dirty little secret of the FASTER bill is that many of the taxes (er, “fees”) collected don’t go towards the construction or maintenance of roads or bridges at all, but for “multi-modal and demand-side transportation solutions” – such as the desire of certain state Senators for streetcars in Denver – justified by other language in a following section (43-4-812):
43-4-812. Use of user fees for transit – legislative declaration.
(2) THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY HEREBY FINDS AND DECLARES THAT THE FUNDING OF TRANSIT-RELATED PROJECTS AUTHORIZED BY SUBSECTION (1) OF THIS SECTION CONSTITUTES MAINTENANCE AND SUPERVISION OF STATE HIGHWAYS BECAUSE IT WILL HELP TO REDUCE TRAFFIC ON STATE HIGHWAYS AND THEREBY REDUCE WEAR AND TEAR ON STATE HIGHWAYS AND BRIDGES AND INCREASE THEIR RELIABILITY, SAFETY, AND EXPECTED USEFUL LIFE.
In fact, the bill MANDATES state spending of $10 Million per year on “transit-related projects.”
It’s an outrageous semantic shell game – and a blatant violation of your constitutional rights.
To sum up: the “FASTER” car tax increase raised vehicle registration fees by $22.50-55 per vehicle, including a “road safety surcharge fee” of $16-$39 per vehicle, PLUS a “bridge fund fee” of $13-$32 per vehicle (halved the first year – so it’s $6.50-$16 this year) in the FIRST YEAR ALONE (with two more years of tax – er, “fee” – increases to come). Plus mandatory “late fees” of $25/month (capped at $100) – for all “vehicles” (including trailers barely even worth that much).
All while creating two new state bureaucracies with power to spend, borrow, & seize private property unconstrained by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and not accountable to the people.
Oh, and increasing mandatory spending by over $10 Million per year on purposes other than roads, bridges, or other transportation infrastructure used by those paying the “fees.”
If anything, the angry crowds at Motor Vehicle offices last summer may have been a MILD reaction, although the anger was misdirected at the hapless county clerks.
Some of the politicians who did this to you – including Governor Ritter and Senate sponsor Dan Gibbs – have quit, rather than face the voters. House sponsor Joe Rice remains, but is facing a tough challenge from Kathleen Conti in his GOP-leaning district. But most importantly, you CAN vote against the four Colorado Supreme Court justices (Mullarkey, Bender, Martinez, and Rice) who enabled this type of sham legislation in the first place with their Nov. 2008 ruling to allow “fees” to act like taxes, in violation of your constitutional rights to have any say in the matter. Clear The Bench, Colorado!
Fight back against this assault on your rights – and your wallet. Exercise your right to vote “NO” this November on the four ‘unjust justices’ of the Colorado Supreme Court’s “Mullarkey Majority”- (Justices Michael Bender, Alex Martinez, Nancy Rice, & Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey) who need YOUR approval to continue taking away your constitutional rights: your right to vote on tax increases, your right to defend your home and business from seizure by governments abusing eminent domain, and your right to enjoy the benefits of the rule of law, instead of suffering under rule by activist, agenda-driven “justices.” Support Clear The Bench Colorado with your comments (Sound Off!), your contributions, and “NO” vote on retaining these unjust justices on the bench for another 10 years!