Issue Papers – Independence Institute

Identifying the Obstacles to Colorado’s Initiative and Referendum Process (Issue Paper)

Issue Paper

By Dennis Polhill

1. Context of the Initiative Process

A. Introduction
Initiative and Referendum (I&R) is important to representative democracy as a check and balance, a means of augmenting government accountability. The Initiative is essential for dealing with issues that legislators cannot or will not address. Such issues typically include conflict-of-interest issues (such as proposed limits on legislators’ powers) and third-rail issues (those that offend powerful interest groups).

This issue paper is a sequel to the Issue Paper, “Are Coloradans Fit to Make Their Own Laws?”1 published in 1996 by the Independence Institute. It has been widely read and referenced. It was offered in testimony when Texas considered I&R, was republished by the Initiative and Referendum Institute, has been linked to and posted by numerous Web sites, and was even translated into Russian.2

Public interest in and support for the Initiative process remains high. But politicians see the process as infringing on their monopoly power to legislate. Some politicians pretend to support I&R to win election, but quickly forget their campaign promises and oaths to uphold the Constitution.

As with all rights, the right to petition is a fundamental right that is not granted by politicians or by governments. As a matter of fact, in delegating authority to legislate to the legislature, the sovereign citizens of Colorado limited their delegation by reserving “to themselves the power to propose laws and amendments.”3 Thus, the initiative is more than a fundamental right; it is a reserved power. The legislature has no authority to interfere with, throttle or adversely regulate the process other than reasonable regulation to insure its fair and nonfraudulent exercise.

Entire Paper: Protecting the People’s Voice [Independence Institute Version] (PDF)

Entire Paper: Initiative and Referendum in Colorado [Initiative and Referendum Institute version] (PDF)

A Common Sense Primer on the Initiative Process

By Dennis Polhil


On Election Day, Nov. 5, Colorado citizens will exercise their right to vote not only in electing candidates but also in deciding upon proposed laws, both statutory and constitutional. Some of these proposals will have been initiated by signature petitions, while others were referred from the General Assembly for final action by the voters.

The “initiative and referendum” feature of self-government in Colorado flows from the bold declaration in Article V, Section 1, of the State Constitution: “The people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws and amendments to the constitution and to enact or reject the same at the polls independent of the general assembly and also reserve power at their own option to approve or reject at the polls any act or item, section, or part of any act of the general assembly.” It is a provision not to be taken for granted, since more than half the states (26) do not recognize it in their constitutions, nor does it occur in the U.S. Constitution. It is prized by some Coloradans as an important bulwark of liberty, but criticized by others as a nuisance or flaw in the system.

Initiative and Referendum (I & R) is briskly debated in every election year as the ballot fills up with questions for decision and the airwaves buzz with ads pro and con. The debate becomes especially hot in years when the ballot process is used to revise itself, as was the case in 1994 with enactment of the single-subject rule as is recurring in 1996 with Referred Measure A, the 60-percent proposal, and Amendment 13, the petition rights measure. The present paper will not address the merits of those specific proposals, but will provide a general primer on petitions, ballot questions, and I & R as a time-honored feature of the U.S. and Colorado political scene in this century.

While this boisterous manifestation of popular sovereignty is no panacea, it cannot be waved off as a bogeyman in the way sometimes attempted by those who would foreclose all argument with the simple mantra, “representative government.” Our ancestors who pioneered representative government were the same ones who cherished petition rights from the time of the Magna Carta and who acknowledged them in the First Amendment right to petition. The petition right and representative government can more properly be seen as complementary, not antithetical, as the succeeding discussion will show.

Entire Paper: Are Coloradans Fit to Make Their Own Laws [Independence Institute Version] (PDF)

Entire Paper: Are Coloradans Fit to Make Their Own Laws [Initiative and Referendum Version] (PDF)

An analysis of the Colorado state government’s flawed plan for I-25

Issue Paper

By Stephen R. Mueller, P. E. and Dennis Polhill, P. E.


This report presents a detailed analysis and critique of the Southeast Corridor plan for Interstate 25 through Denver. The authors spent nearly six months gathering the baseline data and developing the methodology and new analysis tools contained in the report.

It is a timely report for two reasons:

1) The public comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement was still open at the time the full report was published. The report was submitted into the official record to show that there is a better way to analyze a project’s impacts on the public than was presented in the DEIS.

2) The November 1999 ballot contains two measures directly relating to the information contained in this report. Referendum “A”; a statewide ballot issue, is seeking voter approval to bond future federal highway revenues. In the Denver metropolitan area, voters are being asked to allow the Regional Transportation District (RTD) to bond their tax revenues.

Findings of Importance Contained in the Report:
“The goal must be to create a transportation system that offers congestion free driving, better environmental outcomes, and lower taxpayer costs.”


The “official” documents relating to the proposed “improvements” on Interstate 25 show light rail will have no impact on traffic congestion. The conclusion isn’t clearly stated, but is hidden in the numbers and tables contained in the documents.

Proponents of 4A, the more light rail boondoggle proposal, shout that the plan will “take 17,000 cars off the road.” Not only is the statement preposterous, it is NOT a measurement of the traffic congestion that will exist on the freeway. All of the official documents show numerous areas throughout the project and on surrounding facilities where the projected level of service will be rated “F” -which means a completely congested, gridlock condition. Forget the rest of the rhetoric, light rail will NOT solve the problem. It is in the official documents, and finding is further supported in the analysis provided in this report.

Special Interests, particularly in the Southeast Corridor and downtown Denver, have made large contributions to the campaign to build light rail to the Denver Technological Center (DTC) under the mistaken impression that traffic will flow more smoothly if enough people ride the new trolley. There will only be a maximum of eight trolleys per hour running to the DTC, and the 1997 Major Investment Study (MIS) supporting a “light rail only” solution projected that ridership would increase from 1.8% of DTC employees to 3.2%. Even if RTD was able to increase their market share by this amount, it is simply not enough people to have any impact on the highway. Normal traffic growth and latent demand will prevail, and the highway will gridlock.


This report shows that the DEIS recommended “preferred alternative,” which does not involve user pricing, would result in zero improvement in traffic congestion over the 1996 condition the on the very day it opens. Again, there are lots of “Level of Service F” ratings contained in the DEIS. The ever-increasing traffic growth, combined with latent demand (as explained in the complete report), indicate that the CDOT’s new road will be gridlocked on the day it opens.

Under the plan presented by CDOT and RTD, motorists are stuck in gridlocked traffic today, they will be stuck in gridlocked traffic during construction, but what is worse is that they will be doomed to gridlocked traffic on the day this new project opens and forever into the future. Motorists who have survived the construction process will not be pleased.


This report clearly shows that in order to achieve congestion free driving on I-25, a pricing mechanism must be implemented. This report recommends that the existing three free lanes on I-25 be supplemented with new High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes. High occupancy vehicles, such as buses, vanpools, company carpools, and taxicabs would be guaranteed access into the new lanes. The remaining capacity is then sold to people in single occupant automobiles who are willing to pay a toll to use the facility. The price of the toll is variable, depending on the amount of traffic in the HOT lanes. HOT lanes are currently being successfully used in California and Texas, so the technology and benefits of this system has already been proven. People would still be able to choose the free lanes – and the traffic flow in the free lanes will be improved as a result of people who are willing to pay a toll to drive even faster.

HOT lanes offer a future of congestion free driving, and those who receive this benefit will be the ones who pay the costs of the highway improvements. HOT lanes offer far more choices to people than fixed-guideway mass transit systems, and they are environmentally superior and more tax-payer friendly than either light rail or new free lanes.


Many people are being misled about the Environmental Impact Statement process: Public policy is being driven awry by the threat of lawsuit. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has NO AUTHORITY to dictate a specific transportation technology. It is simply not true that if the voters turn down light rail, as it has been in the past, that the highway can’t be widened.

What is true, however, is that any new plan will have to demonstrate “conformity” with the EPA approved air quality plans. The HOT lane proposal contained in this document should easily meet the EPA criteria. This report indicates that HOT lanes offer the ability to achieve a 29% larger reduction in mobile emissions than the plan presented in the DEIS. This plan, therefore, is more environmentally friendly than the DEIS. The official models, however, would still have to be run, which could delay construction for another year. The question voters should ask themselves is “Am I willing to wait a year for a new plan to be developed if I can save myself THREE BILLION DOLLARS?” – Any new plan will include additional highway lanes on I-25. We the People demand it!


Light Rail is hardly rapid transit. The current LRT system speed in Denver is between 15′ and 20 miles per hour. Because the proposed SE corridor light rail would have to merge into this system, it can’t operate at an average speed that is much faster. The travel time from Park Meadows to Downtown Denver will approach a full hour on the new trolley. HOT lanes, offering congestion free driving for most of the distance at 55 miles per hour, will get people downtown in a fraction of the time.


The planning process has been manipulated by special interests, even to the point that blatant mistruths were included in early versions of “official” documents. The MIS and DEIS are hardly more than propaganda pieces intended to rationalize the view favoring light rail transit (LRT). A number of flaws in the DEIS for the I-25 southeast corridor are presented in the report:

A) Failure to adequately scope and analyze the available alternatives.
B) Predetermined LRT placement precludes adequate analysis in the DEIS.
C} Predetermined LRT placement will result in tremendous unaccounted-for future costs to upgrade I-25 in order to resolve future traffic congestion problems.
D) Failure of the DEIS to adequately address the costs and benefits of the various configurations for potential use of the ROW.
E) Traffic growth projections in the DEIS are limited and weakly analyzed.
F} Latent Demand has not been adequately addressed in the document.
G) Impulse driving impacts on congestion were not considered due to limitations in the scoping process.
H) The counting methodology for automobiles versus LRT boardings is inherently flawed.
I) There was inadequate discussion of the potential costs of obtaining additional ROW or providing an alternative engineering solution in several bottleneck areas north of I-225.
J) HOT lanes, given no mention in the DEIS, have been shown to be a substantially superior solution in this report.


Governor Owens and the Colorado Transportation Commission have declared that the majority of the bonds would be used to finance the project analyzed in this report. The measure itself, however, does not specify the actual projects that would be advanced or added if the referendum passes.

In order to construct the HOT lanes, however, it will be necessary to issue bonds. The toll revenues, rather than general tax dollars, will be used to pay off the bonds. This would allow the bond money authorized by Referendum A to be used on other projects throughout Colorado, as designated by the Transportation Commission.


It is clear from this report that the plans to place LRT in the SE Corridor must be stopped. The ROW is needed in order to achieve the socially optimal usage for this transportation facility. RTD should instead plan to invest in additional buses that can use the congestion free HOT lanes, and operate at higher speeds than can be achieved by- LRT. LRT will doom the Denver metro area to subsidies and future tax increases, and a decreasing proportion of people riding mass transit. The increases in the local costs already presented the LRT’s ever changing cost estimates should outrage voters. The greatest cost, however, will be the future need to double-deck I-25 — wasting literally billions of tax dollars that can be saved by using the ROW now. LRT is not financially, environmentally, or functionally justifiable for the I-25 Southeast Corridor. HOT lanes fulfill all the criteria, and those who receive the benefits will pay the costs.

Entire Paper: Let Those Who Receive The Benefits Pay the Costs (PDF)

Copyright (C) 1999 – Independence Institute

Issue Paper

By Stephen R. Mueller and Dennis Polhill
Senior Fellows, The Independence Institute

In Brief:

Congress is considering giving Denver hundreds of millions of dollars to construct an eight mile extension of the existing five mile light rail system. The Regional Transportation District (RTD) is pushing for a vote on a tax increase to fund even more light rail. With new EPA air quality standards looming over the city, the battle over the light rail system is about to begin. The facts show that light rail in Denver is a waste of money:

  • Light rail requires subsidies forever. Every light rail project in the nation, once funded by the federal government, has requested additional federal funding to provide operating assistance. Refusing to fund new light rail projects will help Congress avoid future additional construction and operating subsidies.
  • The costs are too high. Light rail transit is one of the most expensive forms of transportation. Even RTD – the Colorado entity pushing light rail – estimates that light rail in Denver will cost more than twenty million dollars a mile to construct. Other forms of mass transportation systems can carry the same number of riders at a much lower cost.
  • The benefits are too low. Light rail will not reduce traffic congestion, nor will it improve air quality. In addition, there will be no economic benefit. In fact, there will be a huge net loss to the economy.
  • There are better solutions to Denver’s transportation needs. The amount of travel done by rail is a fraction of that done by highway vehicles. This situation is not going to change with the construction of light rail. People have increasingly decided to use their personal automobiles over public transportation services. Additional highway improvements, carpool lanes, and buses would be far more beneficial to Denver than light rail.
  • The people of Denver have already voted against light rail, rejecting it by a 54 to 46 percent margin.

Entire Paper: Light Rail in Denver – Taking the Taxpayers for a Ride (PDF)

Issue Paper

By Dennis Polhill

Although seldom a topic of conversation around Americas dinner tables, the generation and transmission of power is as ripe for privatization as the transportation industry. We must act quickly to assure that we do not lose the window of opportunity to do something significant in this area.

A brief background for the discussion of this issue is as follows. Infrastructure typically must be constructed to proved adequate capacity for peak demand. Thus, a great deal of capacity is simply wasted most of the time. This is true with highways, airports, water plants, telephone lines, power plants etc. When free market mechanisms can be injected, innovation ways to level demand emerge. Because capacity that was once wasted is now utilized, the product unit price is reduced both to the off-peak and peak users. Value is created, by using the facility more efficiently. Once pricing mechanisms are introduced to highway usage, at least twice as many vehicles can be carried on the same system with less congestion and virtually no increase in maintenance cost.

Technological and regulatory advances are beginning to allow for the rethinking of previous assumptions about the use of public and quasi-public monopolies in providing various utility services. Services that were once natural monopolies, justified on the basis of economic efficiency, may not be so justified in the presence of these innovations. Already deregulation has brought competition, greater efficiency and price reduction to consumers in natural gas and telephone serviced. Both of these were once widely considered to be natural monopolies. Electric power generation and transmission will soon be among the next major utilities to experience the benefit of competition.

In 1992, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act. This act required utilities to permit customer access to other suppliers and to the growing number of independent power producers. It set the stage for multilateral long distance competition among energy consumers and producers. Customers served by a local utility at high rates could buy power from other lower cost sources.

Already the California Public Utilities Commission has acted. Electricity users in California will soon be free to shop both inside and outside the state. Large industrial users may choose their supplier in January 1996. Subsequently, freedom will be expanded to small industrial users, then commercial, and finally to residential customers in the year 2002. Kiplinger Washington Letter predicts nationwide open competition within 10 to 15 years. The rates of Long Island Lighting are nearly double the national average. Competition will bring cheaper electricity to the consumer, will force Long Island Lighting to become more efficient, and will capture underutilized capacity in other parts of the country. Michigan is allowing a test of competition with bug users. Already the big three automakers made a deal with Detroit Edison to stay on as customers until 2004 in exchange for lower rates.

In the world of competition, the capture of efficiency results in dislocations. The industry has already reduced its force by 20,000 jobs. There will be mergers, takeovers and failures. Is it appropriate to have taxpayer subsidies to some but not all suppliers who are in competition with each other? Well, currently nearly 24% of American electricity customers are served by government-owned utilities and receive direct subsidies of over $2 billion per year. In addition, because their governments do not pay taxes they receive indirect subsidies of $4.8 billion per year. Under the old paradigm, these subsidies represent a transfer payment from taxpayers who do not live in subsidy areas to those that do. Under the emerging competitive paradigm subsidized electricity is free to go to another location. Thus, localized benefits of this subsidy will soon disappear. In t he future these subsidies will represent dislocations in the free market mechanisms that give unfair competitive advantage to some to producers. This is an inappropriate and dysfunctional roll of the government to play. The sooner these subsidies can be disengaged, then the sooner the benefits and efficiencies of free market competition will be realized by all. All of society benefits when economic efficiency is captured. All of society is injured when economic efficiency is lost or is stalled.

Most socialist state economies in the world have moved in the direction of free markets by divesting their electric power utilities. The U.S. has been slow to follow. In the free market model, financial risk is shouldered by the investor, not the rate-payer as with the American-style system or the taxpayer as with the foreign-style government ownership system. Both the rate-payer and the taxpayer risk models will quickly yield to investor risk as competition evolves. To facilitate the inevitable change, government should get out of the way as quickly as possible. Electric utility ownership and subsidy by the government must cease. Government can play an active roll by clearing away regulatory and property rights obstacles.

By Stephen Mueller & Dennis Polhill

Executive Summary

In March 1993, the Independence Institute published an Issue Paper titled Stop that Train, which contented that the plans ofthe Regional Transportation District (RTD) to bulid a Light Rail Transit (LRT) system throughout the metro area were flawed. The Issue Paper suggested that expanded use of special traffic lanes for buses and carpools (HOV lanes) would be a more cost-effective method of improving mass transit.

RTD published a 28-point reply to the Stop that Train paper, arguing that the issue paper made numerous factual errors. The RTD response is a commendable effort to engage in factual debate, and plays a constructive part in the process of public education on the light rail issue. But although RTD makes some constructive points, many of RTD’s defenses of metro-wide light rail are unpersuasive. This new Independence Paper, Stop that Train: Part II, analyzes and responds to each of the 28 points made by RTD.

In short:

  • Ignoring all facts to the contrary, RTD claims the cost per rider will be $2.50, lower than any LRT system built anywhere.
  • Though RTD publications and RTD board members stated that the MAC light rail line was to be used as a demonstration, RTD now claims that the notion of a demonstration line was not “official policy.”
  • RTD assumes that the federal government will provide 80% of the construction funding. However, Washington has provided only 44.5% of costs for other similar programs around the nation; and the pressure to balance the federal budget suggests that federal transit subsidies will not increase, and may decline.
  • When all the facts are analyzed, special lanes for buses and carpools are more cost-effective than light rail. When Houston abandoned light rail for bus and high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, Houston Mayor Bill Lanier explained, “HOV lanes cost us less per mile than rail by a good bit, and they move more people…. not only transit passengers but also those people able to double up or triple up in cars to form car pools.”

Entire Paper: Stop That Train Part II- A Reply to RTD (PDF)

By Stephen R. Mueller P. E. and Dennis Polhill P. E.

In Brief:

  • RTD is pushing a major public relations campaign to build an expensive light rail transit (LRT) system in southwest Denver, and eventually the whole metro area.
  • In nine US cities that constructed LRT projects, actual costs exceeded projections and ridership fell short of projections. Actual cost per rider exceeded projections by an average of 5.4 times.
  • Contrary to RTD ‘s claim that LRT is the least expensive of several alternatives, LRT is about 1o times as expensive as building dedicated highway lanes for buses and carpools.
  • The MAC demonstration project carried a promise to the people that LRT could be observed in operation for two years before a proposal for an enlarged system would be advanced. RTD has an obligation to honor this promise.

Entire Paper: Stop that Train: RTD’s Light Rail Boondoggle is on a Fast Track for Disaster (PDF)

Number 12-93

By Dennis Polhill

Executive Summary

Unfair Competition exists when a government or quasi-government entity takes
advantage of its tax exemption and other privileges to supply private goods to the market
in competition with private suppliers. Unfair Competition adversely effects all
Americans. Small businesses are most vulnerable. When jobs are lost, the poor, the
unemployed, and women are especially damaged. When private enterprises are replaced
with less efficient government enterprises, national productivity and competitiveness are
adversely impacted. When the tax base is diminished, all taxpayers are injured.
The Federal government has investigated Unfair Competition frequently since 1980. In
1980, the Small Business Administration did a study which yielded numerous grievous
examples and extensive recommended actions. In 1986, a White House Conference on
Small Business labeled Unfair Competition as the third most serious concern in the
country for small business. In 1987, the General Accounting Office surveyed 27,000
businesses, nearly two-thirds of which were found to be suffering a degree of Unfair
In Colorado at least 34 industries are currently suffering damage as a result of Unfair
Competition from government. Unfair Competition is also perpetrated by quasigovernment
agencies that enjoy either monopoly privilege, tax exemptions or regulation
exemptions that are granted by government. Among the steps necessary to a solution are
the following:

  • All regulations which do not apply to government business entities, but which do apply to private industry should be either abandoned or enforced uniformly.
  • Agencies of governments that supply private goods to the market should lose their tax exempt status and other privileges.
  • Governments should adopt accounting practices and management approaches that reveal more closely the true cost of service provided.

Entire Paper: Unfair Government Competition Against Small Business (PDF)