2021 Leg Session, Elections, Gold Dome, Governor Polis, Original Report, Sherrie Peif, TABOR, Taxes

‘Opt-out’ notice for state parks fee when licensing vehicles in the works; less clarity means more revenue

DENVER —The Colorado County Clerks Association, the Division of Wildlife and the Department of Revenue are beginning to determine how to notify motorists they can opt-out of a new $29 state parks fee that will otherwise be automatically added to the cost of licensing a vehicle.

Under the direction of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and his plan to “save people money, sustainably increase funding for conserving natural resources and bolster local communities,” the new fee will become effective sometime between Jan. 1, 2023 and Jan. 1, 2024.

Senate Bill 21-249, requires anyone licensing a motor vehicle in Colorado to pay an additional $29 on their licensing fees to help fund Colorado Parks and Wildlife maintenance and projects. In return, the owner of the vehicle will get annual parks pass, currently sold for $80 a year.

Polis claims the automatic fee will save people money on their parks pass, but others say the new charge will just further raise costs on Coloradans, as many will not understand what they are paying for or that they can refuse.

The bill was signed into law by Polis and moves forward — despite Polis’s re-election campaign promises to lower the cost of living in Colorado.

The new fee requires motorists to opt-out rather than opt-in — a feature that, according to the fiscal note attached to bill, predicts an increase in revenue of $17.6 million over current pass sales, even if 85 percent of motorists opt-out.

That number more than doubles to a $37.6 million increase with only 75 percent of motorists opting out, meaning the fewer people who opt-out, the more revenue the state collects.  At least one state senator believes this gives the state an incentive to make it difficult to know about the opt-out option.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling said during an appropriations hearing in 2021 that he was not supportive of the bill and did not believe promises that information on what the fee was would be clear and precise.

“If you believe that, I have beachfront property in Sterling that I’d like to sell you,” Sonnenberg said.

Weld County Clerk and Recorder Carly Koppes, who is the past president of the Colorado County Clerks Association said she fought hard against the bill and is now fighting to make sure people are given as much information and knowledge as they can to know they don’t have to pay the fee.

According to Koppes, the three agencies have agreed to developing an in-person registration process that will allow county employees to inform people of the fee and give them a choice to not pay it.

There will also be information on the fee along with the difference in registration costs on kiosks and online portals.

However, the big promise by those who sponsored the bill (Democrats Sen. Stephen Fenberg, Sen. Kerry Donovan, and Rep. Kerry Tipper and Republican Rep. Perry Will) that there would be information included on the courtesy reminder cards that are mailed out as registration reminders is not as of yet set in stone, according to Koppes.

“We still have finite details to work out,” Koppes said. “But there are space limitations on the card, and we won’t be finalizing anything until 2023 as we work through the different options for process flow.”

Sonneberg said if it really mattered as to whether people understood what they were doing, it would have been an opt-in.

“There is reason they are making this opt-out versus opt-in,” Sonnenberg said. “It’s because they are counting on people not paying attention so they can raise funds.”


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