DENVER - Negotiations about a major highway repair bill have deadlocked, but sponsors say they are prepared for a pivotal debate in the Senate this morning.
Democratic sponsors and Republicans have been negotiating the bill for three weeks, but late Tuesday, a top Republican declared an impasse.
"We feel like we made our last, best offer," said Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.
Democrats want bipartisan support for the bill, but in three hearings so far, they have not picked up any Republican support. The Appropriations Committee cleared the bill Tuesday on a 6-4 party-line vote.
The bill as currently written would raise auto-registration fees an average of $32 to pay for road and bridge safety projects. It also puts a $2 daily fee on rental cars, higher fees on trucks and higher fines for people who register late. Fees would rise slightly in 2010.
The bill also allows toll roads with the consent of local governments, and it sets up a voluntary pilot program to tax drivers per mile traveled, instead of per gallon of gas. The program - called "vehicle miles traveled, or VMT - would require drivers who chose to be in the study to get global positioning system devices to calculate their taxes.
Republicans say they can't vote for a bill with tolls or the VMT study.
Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, often is the first Republican to cross party lines, but he wasn't ready Tuesday.
"I believe I will be able to vote for this (bill) ultimately, but I can tell you, with the VMT in there, it's a deal-killer for me," White said in the appropriations hearing.
The sponsor, Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, said Tuesday morning he's still open to negotiating on every aspect of the bill. Sponsors say they're trying to solve several problems with the bill.
Colorado has 126 structurally deficient bridges, and the state needs more money to fix them.
They also think the bill can restore jobs to Coloradans who have been laid off in the road-construction industry.
And finally, they hope that tolling or the VMT study could show a way to fund roads that doesn't rely on the gas tax, which has been plummeting as drivers buy more fuel-efficient cars.
Penry said Republicans offered ideas to raise $125 million this year - about half the total of the Democratic bill. Their plan would raise car registration fees only $10 to $15. It also takes money from the severance tax on gas and oil production, creates a $2 surcharge on taxi rides, and puts a $4 a day fee on rental cars - double the Democratic bill.
Rep. Joe Rice, the House sponsor, said the GOP plan would have drawn fire from taxi drivers and rental-car companies.
"It's less money, less fair and more opposition to the bill than the current bill," said Rice, D-Littleton.
The bill, Senate Bill 108, is on the schedule for a debate in the Senate today.