Tuesday, February 17, 2009

FASTER Heads Out of House Committee

A bill that would pay for repairs and improvements to the state's highways and dilapidated bridges by raising motor vehicle registration fees cleared a House committee Tuesday evening.

The FASTER proposal, which would raise more than $200 million per year, was approved on a party-line vote by the House Transportation and Energy Committee.

The bill cleared the committee despite continued strong Republican opposition to it.

"This bill needs a complete overhaul,” House minority leader Mike May, R-Parker, said. “We are well beyond the time for a simple tune-up. We just cannot support this massive fee increase during an economic downturn.”

But Democrats argue the FASTER proposal is essential to the state's economy and the safety of motorists.

“The bill may not be all things to all people but it does save jobs, create jobs, and repair bridges," Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton, said. “It’s important that we do something, and after 17 years of delay, we literally cannot wait any longer. The cost of doing nothing is quantifiably higher than the cost of doing something.”

Rice said the bill could be expected to result in the protection of at least 5,000 new jobs in the next year and that it is the result of lengthy negotiations with local governments, business interests, and members of both major political parties.

GOP legislators have argued that some of the money needed for the state's transportation system should be taken from the general fund and that a portion of the state's tax on oil and gas extraction activities should also be made available for that purpose.

GOP legislators say they have been stymied in efforts to achieve a compromise by Gov. Bill Ritter's unwillingness to bend.

"If there is still a chance for a bi-partisan road and bridge funding measure, the governor will have to recognize the burden he is proposing for working families," Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, said. "He will have to back away from his hard-line partisan negotiating tactics.”

The bill now heads to the House Appropriations Committee.