Clerks feel car tax backlash

If you’ve registered a vehicle lately, you may be suffering from mild sticker shock, but don’t blame the Clerk and Recorder’s Office. Editor's Note: The author is Arapahoe County Clerk & Recorder.

The Legislature passed—and Gov. Ritter signed into law—SB09-108 known as the FASTER measure. It was co-sponsored by Democrats, Sen. Dan Gibbs and Rep. Joe Rice.

It adds about $32 a year to the average registration fee to pay for “Road and Bridge Safety Surcharges”—none dare call it a tax. But wait, there’s more! You used to be able to get by with a $10 late fee if you exceeded the 30 day grace period when renewing your registration. Now, it’s $25 a month, month after month, up to a maximum $100. Got an old boat trailer you take out once or twice a year? Or a hauler you run to the dump with once in awhile. You’d better send that registration card in on time, or you may end up paying more than the vehicle’s worth to re-register if you are late.

You say, “Thirty-two dollars here, and twenty-five dollars there doesn’t sound like a lot of money?” But here are the numbers: Arapahoe County collected $340,000 in late fees in the month of June (the county retained $67,720 and $272,425 was forwarded to the State). And we’re only one of 64 counties collecting these fees! The Governor’s Office has expressed its intention to address this legislation and its consequences in 2010, but in the mean time we must continue collecting the fees as directed by law, and anyone registering late will just have to pay.

Now some would question, “Why impose another regressive tax in the middle of the worst recession in 70 years?” Have the bridges escaped the Legislature’s attention until just this very minute? Have we, then, been driving on unsafe roadways all along? Will the fees sunset or be eliminated after the bridges and roads are repaired? Don’t bet on it. And are these new fees really taxes that should have been voted up or down by the taxpayers? And finally, what about the windfall federal stimulus money that Colorado has also received for roads?

These are all good questions. However, please “don’t shoot the messenger”. The motor vehicle clerks at the front counters in every county clerk’s office in the state have had to explain these fee increases to customers. As agents of the state, they have had to endure irate drivers who take out their frustrations on them. The Denver Post’s recent editorial stated that threats made by unhappy customers in the DMV offices are unacceptable. I agree. Maybe it’s time to e-mail your senator and representative and ask them:

“Why this, why right now and why no vote by the taxpayers?”