DENVER - The Legislature's biggest transportation bill in years is near the end of the road after passing its initial vote in the House on Tuesday night.
Senate Bill 108 has not yet attracted a single Republican vote, and the GOP side of the aisle appeared united in opposition Tuesday, although a recorded vote was not taken. The final vote is scheduled for today.
The bill raises vehicle registration fees an average of $41 to pay for road and bridge repairs.
Democrats quickly proposed and agreed to an amendment that phases in some of the fees over three years.
"It makes sense, as much as we can do to phase in the fee over this amount of time, given the current economic climate," said Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, who proposed the amendment.
Republicans argued again that the Legislature should find more money in its current budget.
"The state must do more with what we have before we ask people to dig deeper into their pockets," said Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch.
Others, including Democrats, argued against the authority the bill gives local governments to impose tolls on roads.
Still others tried to delete or minimize the $2 daily fee on rental cars.
Fed up with the attempts to cut fees, Democrat Jack Pommer of Boulder jokingly offered an amendment to forbid the government from charging anyone anything for highway maintenance.
After a five-hour debate, the vote on the bill appeared to be a narrow but crucial victory for the sponsor, Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton, and the Legislature's Democratic leadership. Representatives signaled their vote on the bill by standing or sitting, and four Democrats joined all 27 Republicans to oppose the bill. Two more "no" votes would have sunk the bill.
McNulty complained that Democrats have rebuffed GOP attempts to find money for transportation in a way that everyone could support.
"We were making progress toward a bipartisan transportation funding solution. That all came to a screeching halt once Senate Bill 108 was introduced," McNulty said.
That prompted House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, to pay a quick visit to the news media table.
"Completely revisionist history. He might as well be Baghdad Bob," Carroll told reporters, referring to the Iraqi spokesman who denied the 2003 American invasion while it was going on.
If the House gives final approval to the bill today, it will have to go to a conference committee to resolve differences with the Senate.