February 5, 2009 9:46 AM
Faster bill officially through Senate
Following a long day of debate Wednesday, the Senate voted 19-16 Thursday morning to give final approval to the most far-reaching transportation-funding bill the legislature has considered in years.
Two Democrats who had opposed a provision that allows for increased tolling - Sen. Morgan Carroll of Aurora and Lois Tochtrop of Thornton - joined with Republicans in voting against Senate Bill 108, known as the "Faster" bill.
The measure, if passed through the House and signed by Gov. Bill Ritter, would increase vehicle-registration fees for most drivers $41 a year by 2011 to raise some $265 million for road and bridge repairs. It also would study the possibility of tolling existing roads.
Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, warned that he expects the fees to be challenged in court as an unconstitutional tax hike, much like a 2007 bill that froze falling property-tax rates was.
"This bill represents yet another step in the majority's march through (the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights) to knock down its fiscal restraints," Mitchell said. "This bill will be challenged, and if the Supreme Court upholds its oath, it will be stricken."
The latter line drew laughs from several Republicans, who have complained that the court has made a slew of recent decisions based on its left-leaning political bent rather than on legal precedent.
Sponsoring Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, tried to emphasized the positive qualities of the bill and the areas of agreement between the two parties. He noted a bipartisan move Wednesday to strip a pilot study on a vehicle-miles-travelled fee from the bill and said that both Republicans and Democrats want to fix bridges and grow jobs.
"Forty-seven thousand jobs were lost last year. We have over a 6 percent unemployment rate," Gibbs said, emphasizing that the bill could create some 10,000 jobs. "We have a great opportunity to do something good for all Coloradans today."