Editor’s Note: A response from Gov. Bill Ritter’s senior policy adviser, Carla Perez, follows.
By Debi Brazzale, COLORADO NEWS AGENCY
A public outcry against new late fees tucked away in Gov. Bill Ritter’s sweeping transportation-funding measure last year has spawned a number of Republican attempts at a rollback in the new legislative session.
A Ritter administration spokesman, however, says the governor is unlikely to embrace any of the GOP proposals and instead will work with the original transportation measure’s Democratic authors on more modest revisions to the late fees on vehicle registration.
Prior to the passage of the much-debated FASTER transportation measure by most ruling Democrats and one Republican in the 2009 legislature, the penalties for registering vehicles late were imposed solely at the discretion of county clerks and topped out at $10. When FASTER went into effect last July, it required a mandatory late fee of $25 per month of non-compliance—up to $100. The new penalties came atop FASTER’s hike in the cost of registering a vehicle in Colorado, averaging around $40 more for a passenger car.
“This is the largest outcry from my constituents that I have ever seen on any legislation passed,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, who now is carrying one of the proposals to rescind the late fees. “It was not well thought out as a penalty.
So far, there are three measures in the Senate and one in the House addressing the late fees—Senate Bill 44 by Lundberg; Senate Bill 4, sponsored by Sen. Al White, R-Hayden; Senate Bill 57 by Sen. Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs; and House Bill 1102, by Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock.
SB 4 and SB 44 both repeal the late fees outright while Cadman’s bill addresses late fees on non-motorized vehicles such as trailers. Murray’s House bill tinkers with how the fees are imposed on special mobile machinery such as heavy equipment vehicles used in construction.
Lundberg says the wording of his bill would allow for a broader revision of other provisions in the FASTER bill, and that would be fine by him.
“Transportation needs funding, but this … isn’t the way to go about it,” he said.
White, the only Republican to vote for the original measure after it was amended last February, believes that the late fees are not only unpopular but that they are not good policy due to the inequity that the fees promote. Some people have vehicles that are rarely driven, broken down or have unique situations. They are penalized simply for not registering a vehicle until they actually used it, says White.
“It’s a one-size-fits-all penalty and to me that’s an inequitable situation,” he said. White thinks the best remedy is to roll back the penalty to the way it was before FASTER, with the $10 fee at the discretion of the individual county clerks.
White, who sits on the Joint Budget Committee, also recalled that when the FASTER bill was being considered in the legislature last year, revenue from the late fees was not thought to be a significant consideration.
“Now, we know there is an almost $25 million gain that’ll be hard to ignore,” said White, who anticipates tremendous pushback from Democratic proponents of FASTER who might find it difficult to give up any dollars coming into the state during a time of decreased revenue.
Two of the Senate bills have been assigned to the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee by Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont. The panel is often called the “kill committee,” and Lundberg says he takes it as a sign neither his nor White’s bill has long to live.
According to his office, Ritter will work with the original sponsor of the FASTER legislation, Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton, who is expected to introduce legislation to exempt trailers and other non-motorized vehicles from the late fees.
The administration also continues to stand by the FASTER bill itself, a key provision of which raised some $250 million through a range of higher vehicle-registration fees.
“FASTER is a public safety issue,” said Ritter spokesman George Merritt. “It’s just not acceptable for people to be driving on unsafe bridges. FASTER was a landmark bill to solve that and to make sure that the public is safe.”
Response from Carla Perez: Prior to the passage of FASTER, the statute provided for a one-time $10 late fee on late vehicle registrations to be administered at the discretion of the county clerks offices. Approximately 24 counties were regularly charging a late fee. There appeared to be discrepancies from county to county as to when and for what reasons a late fee would be charged. When the penalty went into place last summer, over 12% of the vehicles that registered after the 30 grace period were late. The percentage of late vehicle registrations has been dropping, which is the desired result. It is important to note that vehicle registration requirements are not based on usage, they are based on ownership.
Last year’s change in legislation standardized the penalty statewide. This year’s FASTER cleanup bills will allow for the small non-motorized vehicles under 2,000 pounds to go back to the one time $10 penalty for late registration and the DOR rule making bill will allow for exemptions to the late registration penalty to be defined in greater detail and be consistently applied statewide.