Wrong time for highway fee hikes

We certainly recognize the troubling arithmetic that accompanies discussions of Colorado’s highway needs.

A blue ribbon panel created last year by Gov. Bill Ritter has said the minimum amount of new money needed just to maintain Colorado’s highways and bridges is $500 million more each year. However, transportation funding is going in exactly the opposite direction. Ritter’s budget proposal shows a $500 million decrease in transportation funding in the coming year.

But efforts to revive an idea that was nixed by the Legislature last year — raising registration fees for private vehicles and substantially boosting fees for commercial trucks — seems destined for failure once again, as it should be.

Sen.-elect Al White, a Hayden Republican and member of the Joint Budget Committee, said the chances of the Legislature approving such fee increases next year are virtually nil.

We certainly understand why the proposal to raise fees isn’t gaining traction among lawmakers. The nation is in the midst of its worst economic crisis in 70 years. Colorado may be weathering the storm better, so far, than other parts of the country, but we are not immune to its devastation.

Boosting fees on private vehicles could be crippling to many families struggling to get by. Raising fees significantly for commercial trucks, as was suggested in a report to the Joint Budget Committee, could be catastrophic to countless small businesses. The problems wouldn’t be only for trucking companies, but for the thousands upon thousands of businesses that depend on truckers to deliver their supplies and carry their
goods to buyers.

As state lawmakers continue to crunch budget numbers and calculate how they might help highways, they should consider ideas such as those put forth by state Sen. Josh Penry, to find existing funds within the budget. That won’t meet all of the transportation needs, of course, but it is far better than hamstringing businesses and individuals with large fee increases in the middle of a serious recession.


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