DENVER - Democrats revealed their plans to raise auto-registration fees to fix aging bridges Tuesday, while Republicans announced another plan that would rely on borrowed money.
The two parties have been negotiating since the election on a plan to fix Colorado's roads and bridges and create construction jobs, but Tuesday's announcements revealed the disagreements they still have.
Colorado needs an extra $500 million every year to maintain the current quality of its roads, said Gov. Bill Ritter's special transportation panel.
"We're at a tough place," Ritter said at a speech to the City Club of Denver. "We have 125, 126 bridges in this state that are structurally deficient, and that's just unacceptable."
Ritter said he's working on a major transportation bill that will bring in new money for roads, mostly through fees, plus some other unspecified source of money.
Republicans recoiled from the fee idea, just like they did last year.
"We should explore all our other options before we reach into the pockets of Colorado's citizens," said House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker.
Instead, the GOP revealed a plan to issue bonds using state buildings as collateral. The Legislature would have to find money to pay off the bonds during the next 10 to 15 years, said Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.
Democratic reaction to that plan was skeptical.
The state will be paying off the bonds it took out under Gov. Bill Owens for another decade, so it can't do the same thing again without a source of money to make the payments, said Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver.
"We're being asked to double down and essentially take a subprime mortgage," Romer said.
Democrats want to take out bonds, too, so they can start fixing bridges this spring. But instead of using state buildings as collateral, they want to tap into a new "revenue stream."
"I think auto-registration fees are probably going to have to be a part of it," said Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton, who has worked on the issue since last year.
The state could get enough money by raising the average auto-registration fee by $3 or $4 a month, Rice said - a number that could translate to almost $50 a year for each driver.
The Legislature can raise registration fees without voter approval, but Republicans traditionally have opposed that tactic.
Still, the two parties agree on several fronts:•The first goal is to spend money now to fix bridges and keep workers in their jobs. Democrats want to spend $250 million, while Republicans are aiming for $500 million or more.
•No one is counting on a federal bailout.
"If history has taught us anything, it would be foolish for us to wait with our hat in hand for Washington to act," Penry said.
Rice added: "Anything we get from the bailout is gravy."
•Nothing is "off the table," both Penry and Rice said, and the two parties want to come up with a bipartisan bill.
The Legislature begins its 120-day session today.