Colorado Car Tax “Late Fees” = $31.5M ‘Highway Robbery’ aided and abetted by 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 in November 2008.
The most universally despised use of this tactic – and the one affecting the greatest number of Colorado citizens – was 2009′s Colorado Car Tax (er, registration “fee”) increase with the “FASTER” bill (SB 108).
The most universally hated – and unjust – part of the so-called FASTER bill (SB 108) is the massive (and now mandatory) imposition of “late fees”. How massive? The Denver Post reports today that Colorado drivers
paid nearly $31.5 million in penalties the first year mandatory late fees were in effect.
Last summer – the first year that the new taxes (er, “fees”) were in effect, driver outrage boiled over to such an extent that many county clerks found it necessary to hire additional security (despite the fact that the increases were not their fault). Some country clerks even took the unusual step of providing pre-addressed postcards (printed on recycled paper at little or no cost) to allow angry drivers to vent their anger at state officials (who passed the tax – er, “fee”) instead (for which they were roundly, and hypocritically, criticized by the Denver Post editorial board – which had no criticism for the thousands of taxpayer dollars wasted on propaganda in favor of the increases).
Many of the county clerks – who had previously had the discretion to impose late fees, which were usually minimal ($10, vs. $25-$100 thanks to “FASTER”) and frequently waived with proper justification, are not fans of the new “fees” despite increased revenue for their districts. Today’s Denver Post article quotes one:
Weld was one of the counties that hadn’t charged a late fee. Clerk and Recorder Steve Moreno said Friday he was amazed to learn his office collected more than $2 million in late fees the first year.
Of that, $396,160 went to Weld County and the rest to the state. Despite the extra money, Moreno still believes the fees should have stayed at $10 to be imposed at the clerk’s discretion.
“It feels like an extra tax,” he said.
Feels like an extra tax? That’s putting it mildly…
My own county clerk – Arapahoe County Clerk Nancy Doty – also criticized the vehicle “fee” increases (particularly the often unjustifiable but now mandatory “late fee”) and the questionable constitutionality of how they were passed in an article (“County Clerks Required to Enforce Legislature’s New Fees“) published almost exactly a year ago:
It adds about $32 a year to the average registration fee to pay for “Road and Bridge Safety Surcharges”-none dare call it a tax. But wait, there’s more! You used to be able to get by with a $10 late fee if you exceeded the 30 day grace period when renewing your registration. Now, it’s $25 a month, month after month, up to a maximum $100. Got an old boat trailer you take out once or twice a year? Or a hauler you run to the dump with once in awhile. You’d better send that registration card in on time, or you may end up paying more than the vehicle’s worth to re-register if you are late.
…And are these new fees really taxes that should have been voted up or down by the taxpayers? [Ed. YES! Yes, they are...]
“Why this, why right now and why no vote by the taxpayers?”
Good question. The answer, of course, is that this “highway robbery” was aided and abetted by the Colorado Supreme Court’s “Mullarkey Majority” (Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey, who recently announced that she would retire rather than be held accountable by Colorado voters this November, along with her colleagues justices Michael Bender, Alex Martinez, and Nancy Rice who remain on the November ballot seeking another 10-year term of office). The Colorado Car Tax (er, “vehicle registration fee”) increase could not have happened without the Colorado Supreme Court setting aside the Constitution to allow “fee” increases to dodge the constitutional requirement to get prior voter approval for tax increases.
Others have also noted the regressive nature of the tax (hurting most those who can least afford it) along with the multi-year increases built in to the law, saying “the pain of FASTER is just beginning.”
Adding insult to injury, much of the revenue collected by these increased “fees” is not even going to roads and bridges (the stated purpose of the legislation). That’s right – state and county governments are playing the ol’ shell game with your money, diverting it from the intended purpose (“fix roads and bridges” – a worthy goal) and using it as a general-purpose (or other special-interest) slush fund. For example, the Denver Post article points out that Jefferson County has
set aside the county’s share of more than $600,000 in late fees to be used for capital purchases and other expenses.
The “FASTER” legislation already explicitly provides for several categories of expenditure not related to “roads or bridges” – an unconstitutional diversion of funds collected as “fees” vice taxes – as noted earlier on this site and in other publications:
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.
Don’t get taken for a ride any longer – exercise your right to vote “NO” this November on the four (er, now 3) ‘unjust justices’ of the Colorado Supreme Court’s “Mullarkey Majority” (Justices Michael Bender, Alex Martinez, Nancy Rice, and soon to be minus Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey) who need YOUR approval to continue taking away your constitutional rights: your right to vote on tax (er, “fee”) increases, your right to defend your home and business from seizure by governments abusing eminent domain, your right to be fairly represented in the legislature and Congress, 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 your “NO“ vote against retaining these unjust justices on the bench for another 10 years!