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I-70 Toll Plan is Dead

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There will be no tolls on I-70. The Colorado Senate Thursday officially killed the proposal.

Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany killed his own plan Thursday to place tolls on the mountain area of Interstate 70 because he didn’t have the votes to pass it. The Colorado Springs Republican had proposed setting up $5 booths on each side of the Eisenhower Tunnel and using the money to improve the highway from Floyd Hill to the tunnel.

That’s the good news. The bad news is we may get taxed instead:

Also Thursday, a Democratic senator introduced a bill to raise annual vehicle registration fees $25 and impose a $6 daily rental-car fee to raise $197 million for road and bridge improvements.

I’m not in favor of any of these ideas. The price of gas has already made driving too expensive. Isn’t there some other way the state can save money to fund road and bridge repairs? How about shortening prison sentences? For every inmate let out a year early, we’d save more than $20,000.

It cost an average of $23,876 to imprison someone in 2005, the most recent year for which figures were available. But state spending varies widely, from $45,000 a year in Rhode Island to $13,000 in Louisiana. About 91 percent of imprisoned adults are under state or local jurisdiction, and the report documents the trade-offs state governments have faced as they have devoted ever larger shares of their budgets to house them.

In 2005, Colorado’s rate of incarceration was 12% higher than than the national average. In 2001, the cost of housing an inmate was $25,000.

Here’s another idea: Instead of incarcerating the undocumented who are convicted of crimes before deporting them, why not just deport them? The Bell Policy Center reports that in 2005 – 2006, Colorado spent $18 million housing undocumented residents in jails. (pdf.)

The budget for the Colorado Department of Corrections is bloated.

The Colorado Department of Corrections’ budget has climbed from $57 million in 1985 to $702 million this year, and the state’s prison population grew 400 percent from 4,000 in 1985 to 20,000 in 2005. If the state stays on its current course , the prison population will increase by nearly 25 percent by 2013, officials say.

Rather than tax us through driving fees and tolls, why not cut the fat from the existing budget by becoming smarter rather than tougher on crime?

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