Life in the FASTER lane – updates on the Colorado Car Tax
The Colorado Car Tax (er, “fee”) increase – ironically dubbed ‘FASTER’ – passed in the 2009 legislative session made another lap in media coverage this past week with a broadcast on the ‘Devil’s Advocate‘ television program and publication of a pair of “Issue Backgrounder” papers.
The “Issue Backgrounder” papers each address a specific aspect of the FASTER legislation, focusing in on the “Bridge Enterprise” (a ‘government-owned business’ within the Colorado Department of Transportation, or CDOT). One paper addresses how the “Bridge Enterprise” has raised $300M in debt without (constitutionally-required) voter approval (and the long-term implications for Colorado’s fiscal stability); the other more generally addresses how the Colorado Bridge Enterprise contravenes the Colorado Constitution.
Both papers are well worth reading, and provide additional detail on just how bad even this single aspect of the FASTER Colorado Car Tax (er, “fee”) is for Colorado citizens.
However, both papers together only tell half of the story (almost literally). The ‘Colorado Bridge Enterprise’ is only one of two new ‘government-owed businesses’ established by the FASTER legislation (the other being the ‘Colorado Transportation Enterprise’ charged with collecting and spending the ‘road safety surcharge’ tax – er, “fee”) . Both “enterprises” are overseen by an 11-member appointed (ergo, unaccountable to the public) board (coincidentally, the same 11 people who make up the Colorado Transportation Commission). Significantly (although unfortunately unremarked in both papers), both ‘enterprises’ are also authorized to use eminent domain to seize private property.
The television broadcast is informative and entertaining as well, but unfortunately also misses significant parts of the story.
Also unremarked in both papers – and on the television broadcast as well – is the fact that FASTER actually comprises multiple tax increases (er, “fees”) in a single piece of legislation, blatantly violating the constitutional requirements to “receive voter approval in advance” for “any new tax, mill levy above that for the prior year, valuation for assessment ratio increase for a property class, or extension of an expiring tax, or a tax policy change directly causing a net tax revenue gain to any district.” (Colorado Constitution, Article X, Section 20 – the ‘Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights’). The “bridge fund fee” and the “road safety surcharge fee” increase each year for three years (yep, that’s 3 tax increases in one!), in addition to imposing an entirely separate “fee” on car rentals as well. Oh, and don’t forget the “late fees” too…
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 (phased in at 50%/75%/100% each of the first 3 years ). 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 ‘government-owned’ 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.”
Most of the politicians who did this to you – including Governor Bill Ritter, Senate sponsor Dan Gibbs, and House sponsor Joe Rice – have paid the political price, either quitting office or being defeated at the ballot box; however, the real culprits, without whom none of this would have been possible (thanks to a Nov. 2008 court ruling to allow “fees” to act like taxes, in violation of your constitutional rights) escaped justice (except for Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey, who quit rather than face the voters, the remaining members of the Colorado Supreme Court who aided and abetted FASTER were retained in office for another 10-year term).
Unfortunately, these politicians in black robes remain ‘at large’ and able to continue to assault your constitutional rights for years to come.
Clear The Bench Colorado will, with your support, continue to promote transparency and accountability in the Colorado judiciary, informing the public to increase awareness of the substantial public policy implications of an unrestrained activism and political agendas in the courts. We will continue to work to educate voters and provide information of relevance related to the judicial branch, and to provide useful and substantive evaluations of judicial performance.
Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.