Opinion Editorials


Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill, Stephen R. Mueller

Everyone is complaining about traffic congestion. At the Independence Institute, we’ve said it time and time again: it’s not the growth, it’s the traffic that has everyone upset. The most important thing we can do to alleviate traffic congestion in the western metropolitan area is to complete the 470 Loop near Golden.

For many years, studies by the Denver Regional Council of Governments have shown the best solution for both air pollution and traffic congestion is a highway loop, or beltway, system which allows people to drive around the city instead of through it. This disperses cars, and therefore emissions, over a wider area and, perhaps as importantly, saves people time and money.

Neighborhoods in Golden, Westminster and Arvada would benefit if commuters travel through their communities more quickly and without car engines idling at stoplights, which is when cars pollute the most. Our priorities and the actions which would most improve the quality of life in the metro area should be removing bottlenecks and other capacity limitations, improving traffic signal coordination, and completing the 470 bypass loop.

Nearly every major city in America has a highway bypass loop, and Houston is currently working on its third. Cities that have grown large more recently have proven that highway bypass loops assist in preventing the kind of central city congestion that affects older cities that grew large before the concept of bypass loops was prevalent. Ideally, as

Houston is demonstrating, the original bypass loop should be located six miles from the city center and then each additional loop should be six miles in diameter from the original. E-470 is located about 13 miles from the center of Denver, forever dooming the downtown metro area to more than its fair share of traffic congestion.

We’re way behind schedule completing the bypass loop around Denver, and as increasing traffic congestion and air pollution shows, we’re getting further behind every day. The blame can be placed solidly on political correctness and the activities of environmental activists and light-rail transit advocates, such as COPIRG, which recently included the northwest segment of the 470 loop on its recently announced “Sprawl of Shame” list. They want to take money from highway funds; money paid by highway users to support the roadway system ; and redirect the dollars to light-rail and fixed-route bus systems that only serve 2% of the population.

Due to bad decisions made by politicians and planners who have determined that 60% of the future metro area transportation funds will be spent on public transit projects instead of roads, the problems associated with traffic congestion and air pollution will only get worse. It’s ironic that the planners themselves have projected that, after 20 years of devoting 60% of all transportation funds to transit, that bus and light rail ridership will increase from a whopping 1.53% to a staggering 2.23% of all trips made in the metro area.

Transit advocates, environmentalists and planners seem willing to accept transportation-related costs to society that scare the heck out of the rest of us. They concede, “Roadway speeds will decline. Severe congestion will increase significantly. Person hours of delay will double. Fuel efficiency will decrease.” All this while they’re furiously adding light rail and bus routes.

During the last decade, Colorado grew by almost one million people (and a relative number of cars), but the roadway network was not expanded at a sufficient rate to handle this large increase in people and cars. Because we have limited our supply of roads during a time of increasing demand to use them, traffic congestion has increased dramatically. The Texas Transportation Institute studies traffic congestion in major American cities each year, and their Road Congestion Index for Denver shows traffic density increased by 2.8% last year, dropping Denver to 48th in the ranking of 70 cities evaluated. Whenever the efficiency of public roads is compromised, the benefits arising from efficient transportation disappear from society. In 1960, the American Association of State Highway Officials reported that “savings in time”;has value in direct ratio to costs of operation. It has value also for fixed costs such as overhead; “because saving in time of travel results in greater usage for given time.” In short, efficient transportation augments economic efficiency and enhances the wealth and opportunity of all society’s members and, conversely, inefficient transportation imparts an economic cost that diminishes the personal wealth of all.

If driving time delays double, then UPS will need more trucks and workers to provide the same level of service, making it impossible to lower costs to consumers through efficiency. The same can be said for FedEx, the postal service, furniture movers, pizza delivery, meter reading, garbage pick-up, telephone repairs, etc. Not only will it cost more to get bread to the grocery store, it will also cost more to transport the flour to the bakery.

C-470 and E-470 don’t and won’t serve their true purpose until the Northwest Parkway is completed and a new link between the southwest metro area and C-470 in Golden is built. We’re all paying for the delay.

Dennis Polhill and Steve Mueller are Senior Fellows with the Independence Institute. They co-authored this article for the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Golden; http://www.i2i.org This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action. Please send comments to: Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Parkway, Suite 185, Golden, CO 80401. Phone (303) 279-6536 or FAX to (303) 279-4176; e-mail is webmngr@i2i.org.

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill, Matthew Edgar

The Regional Transportation District (RTD) will not allow Coloradans to have real transit solutions such as jitney service. A jitney is a privately owned minibus that carries passengers from point to point on a flexible schedule.

In 1989, the Florida legislature accidentally created a legal loophole that permitted competitive, unregulated services like jitneys. Within months, over 20 jitney firms had emerged to serve the accidentally created market. Before this loophole, certain regulated jitneys were allowed to operate in conjunction with the Miami version of RTD, Metrobus.

The new jitney services provided faster trip times, shorter wait times, flexibility in boarding locations and drop-off points, and availability of service in late evening. The largest advantage jitney service had over Metrobus in Miami was trip speed and ease of boarding.  In order to board the jitney, the passenger would simply flag down the jitney from any place along the jitneys route not just bus stops fixed in inconvenient locations. In this sense, it acted much like a taxi service. In addition, the jitneys would run on time in order to satisfy their customers.  The irony in Colorados ban on jitneys is that the largest complaints made by RTD passengers are: trip times are too long; the buses are routinely off schedule; the bus stops are not conveniently located; and, that RTD does not provide late night service.

Because of the benefits of faster trips, shorter wait times, better travel times, and flexibility in stopping locations, the Miami jitney services were able to establish a market of their own. In the first year, the jitney services attracted 43,000 to 49,000 passengers per weekday. That breaks down to about 110-115 passengers per vehicle per weekday.  Most of these passengers said that if not for the jitneys, they would take their own car: a new market was created solely for jitneys in Miami.

In addition to all the other benefits, the jitney service was much cheaper. With no government subsidy, the jitney service was able to charge $1 per passenger, whereas Metrobus charged $1.75. RTD charges $1.75 for peak hour travel, and 75 cents for non-peak travel (to which is added a state and federal subsidy worth four times that amount).  To repeat: that $1.00 was the average jitney charge in Miami, without subsidies from the government.

Despite the benefits of faster trips, shorter wait times, flexibility in boarding, and late evening service, Miami ended legal jitney service in 1991. The various jitney services operating without regulations were charged with operating without a license. The fine for the crime of for-hire transportation of people was a charge of $100 to $500 and/or up to 10 days in jail.  The reason for ending jitney service was political. The government simply did not feel comfortable allowing the private sector to compete against a public sector monopoly bus system.

This was evinced before the loophole was started.  In March 1983, the Board of County Commissioners in Miami questioned the conflicting policy of support for private sector and public sector transportation services. The commission chose to support protecting the monopoly by restricting jitneys from large Metrobus areas. A large Metrobus area was defined as any area in which jitney service would have a serious negative impact on existing service.  According to the commissioners, that was ample reason to close the loophole.

Is the argument that jitneys hurt a government-controlled monopoly a worthwhile defense for ending a beneficial service? No. Moreover, is it any reason not to allow jitneys in Colorado? Again, the answer is no. Some make the argument that there is no jitney market in Colorado. No one can answer this question until we actually conduct an experiment in free market jitneys.

In Colorado, most people who do not ride RTD do not ride because it is slow and often off-schedule, bus stops are inconvenient, and routes do not travel to the desired destinations of passengers. All these problems with RTD provide market room for jitneys to provide service. In other words, the jitneys market would be those who are not satisfied with RTD. A potential market 10 to 20 times larger than that served by RTD may be available for jitneys.  If a demonstration found only a fraction of that to be true, the positive impact on traffic congestion at no cost to taxpayers would be immediately noticeable.

Some will still ask, But what about the hurt government monopoly? If RTD loses passengers then they have an incentive to improve and help passengers. Thus, there is really no need to negate a good service like jitneys for the sake of protecting an inefficient government monopoly.  That is what happened in Miami when the government, after only a few months of jitney service, closed the jitney loophole.

By not allowing jitneys, we are forced to choose between riding a slow and inefficient service and driving on congested roads. Jitneys are one solution to decreasing congestion and challenging the government monopoly to improve service.

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, and Matthew Edgar is a summer intern at the Independence Institute and a junior at the University of Denver. They wrote this article for the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Golden; http://www.i2i.org

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action. Please send comments to: Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Parkway, Suite 185, Golden, CO 80401. Phone (303) 279-6536 or FAX to (303) 279-4176; e-mail is webmngr@i2i.org

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)webmngr@i2i.org

Copyright 2001

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

Usually a terrorist is an extremist hijacking an airliner and holding innocent passengers hostage.  Currently the FTA (Federal Transit Agency) is holding mobility hostage to extort Colorado citizens.

In 1991, an intergovernmental agreement was developed between the Colorado Department of Transportation, the Regional Transportation District, the City of Denver and the FTA to add lanes on I-25 north of central Denver. Assuming that more people could be moved, new multiple-occupant vehicle lanes designed for High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV) were added at a cost of $222 million. The FTA contributed $71 million (32%).  Construction was $16 million per lane-mile.  By contrast, today’s proposal to double-deck I-70 to DIA is $10 million per lane-mile and a comparable California highway project recently came in at $3 million per lane-mile.  Did I-25 need to be so expensive?

Currently, though, utility is more important than money already expended.  The pertinent questions are: Can a minor donor like FTA dictate that service potential be wasted?  Isn’t CDOT responsible for efficient operation and for maximizing service to users?  The older general-purpose lanes remain congested. The HOV lanes never move more than 30% of their possible vehicle capacity. During hours open, use averages 16%; over 24 hours, use is less than 9%.  If taxpayer dollars were “real money,” there might be a problem with 84% of $222 million going to waste.

In 1991, the Oklahoma Turnpike became the first state agency in the U.S. to use electronic toll collection. Collection costs declined 91% and tollbooth accidents ceased. Technology and applications improved. This technology permits variable pricing, recognizing the reality that units of highway space and time are neither free nor equal in value. This reality reveals fatal flaws in the gasoline tax as a user fee.

One creative application of electronic toll collection is HOT (High Occupancy Toll) lanes.  Not only can HOT lanes self-finance new capacity and move more users over the same infrastructure, wasted HOV lane capacity can be captured at NO injury to HOVs. Surplus HOV lane capacity is sold to willing buyers. Price varies to ensure no adverse affect on free flow of traffic.

Recognizing the potential, Senator John Andrews successfully sponsored SB-1999-88.  It mandated that CDOT convert one HOV lane to HOT as a demonstration.  CDOT wisely requested a due date extension to July 1, 2001. Delaying provided the opportunity to evaluate alternatives, quantify conversion costs, estimate revenues, and help others understand the concept.  A $400,000 consultant study concluded that

I-25 would be Colorado’s best demonstration; conversion costs would be $3 million and users would reimburse conversion costs in six years.  Because some traffic will be removed from the free lanes, all I-25 users would benefit.

The FTA opposes this experiment.  A March 8, 2001 letter dictated that the demonstration project could not advance without full reimbursement of the FTA’s original contribution of $71 million.  The FTA stipulated that “general traffic [on HOV lanes] during peak traffic hours shall constitute a breach” of the original 1991 agreement. The FTA correctly asserts that general-purpose traffic might jeopardize the HOV character of the new multiple-occupancy lane. But general-purpose traffic is NOT the proposal.  HOT traffic is controlled via pricing to ensure free flow. Although FTA did not claim that CDOT might mismanage the HOT lanes by under-pricing tolls and attracting too many vehicles, such mismanagement would be counter to CDOT’s interests.  By claiming the project is other than it is, FTA has proven itself to be either ignorant or deceptive.

For those honestly interested in improving mobility and traffic flow, the I-25 HOT lane demonstration project offers small risks and potentially large benefits. FTA’s blocking attempt seems negatively motivated. A failed demonstration would revert to the former condition.  Therefore, they must fear success.  If the latter is true, then the FTA is a demagogue with a pre-defined political agenda, rather than a government agency committed to efficient service for its constituents.

The issue of Federalism (the division of responsibilities between federal and state governments) has become unclear regarding transportation; the U.S. Constitution was never amended to allow a federal role. Several presidents vetoed Congressional attempts to intrude into the state domain of transportation.  The federal share of the gasoline tax was a temporary tax for construction of interstate highways and was created under the guise of national defense to circumvent the Constitutional prohibition.  The same Constitutional limitation is the reason there are no federally-owned highways.  Federal involvement in mass transit as a protection against foreign invasion is preposterous and federal dictation of operations is a dangerous precedent to concede.

“Full use” of taxpayer-funded facilities is reasonable.  CDOT has an obligation to move forward. No objective observer would agree with the FTA’s indefensible stand.  With no injury to the original purpose, FTA’s suggestion of a payoff is extortion. Do Colorado leaders have the courage to stand up to the cowardly and criminal FTA?

Senior Fellow Dennis Polhill wrote this article for the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Golden; http://www.i2i.org

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)webmngr@i2i.org

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

Growth was a big problem in Colorado’s early days. There wasn’t enough of it. With a non-Indian population of 34,277, Colorado was virtually a ghost-state in 1860.The Oregon and Sante Fe Trails bypassed Colorado, in order to avoid the state’s formidable mountains. Boom and bust cycles coupled with steady growth yielded a 1950 population of 1,325,271. As the Colorado legislature begins work on growth control, it’s important to understand some basic facts about Colorado’s cycles of population growth.

Many factors influence people to immigrate. The predominant factor seems to be economic opportunity. Colorado has experienced five easily discernable cycles since 1950 with peaks in 1956, 1961, 1973, 1978, and 1993. Ex-migration peaked in the cycle troths in 1951, 1958, 1965, 1975, and 1988. The most severe down-cycle was the most recent when more people left than came for five consecutive years:1986-1990. Because 1990 was the last year of a five year out-migration, comparing the 1990 population to the 2000 population artificially exaggerates Colorado’s long term growth.

The current up-cycle peaked in 1993 at 3.1% and has declined steadily. Immigration of 77,397 in 1993 was surpassed only in 1973. Growth at 1.8% in 2000 was down from 1.9% in 1999 and 2.0% in 1998.

Natural population growth is consistent. Births increase population 1.6% per year. Deaths decrease it 0.8%.

The movement of Americans departing Northeastern for Southwestern states has resulted in the Mountain Time Zone now accounting for 5.75% of the U.S. population.

Past efforts to attenuate cycle extremes seem to have made things worse. Distressed at the duration of the last down-cycle, politicians advocated that Stapleton International Airport be replaced. Less costly alternatives were rejected. Spending billions for a new airport would reinvigorate the stagnant economy. But the economy had bottomed in 1988 and construction did not commence until 1992. If political meddling had an economic effect, it augmented growth at the wrong time.

A large amount of jargon has evolved that plays upon passions without committing to firm definitions or accompanying hard facts. Smart growth, like the word beauty, presumes that someone has quantified it and all agree. Buzz words like “sprawl,” “sustainable transportation,” and “naturally productive land also demand objective scrutiny.

Interestingly, one of the most serious side-effects, traffic congestion, has been worsened by those complaining most. While providing a small benefit for government transit, high-density development increases congestion, travel times, and pollution, while reducing mobility and the quality of life. The problems of high-density growth are worse than those of low-density growth.

Coloradans deserve to know that command and control extremists have captured government institutions. Because over 60% of metro area transportation funds over the next 20 years will be wasted on government transit, severe traffic congestion will nearly double.

Growth should pay its own way is a worthy ideal. Yet the problems of assessing impact fees properly are very substantial. A 1998 Colorado Municipal League survey reported on 168 cities. Nearly 5% had no fees. The highest total fees are $20,000 for a $100,000 home. That same city had no fees in eight of twelve categories. Developments typically bear costs for constructing adjacent streets. Only 10% of development fees acknowledge that existing major streets must be widened and traffic signals upgraded.

Perhaps the largest unacknowledged impact is schools. Every 2,000 homes fills an elementary school. Who rightfully should pay for the school?  Allocated to the new homes, each would pay $5,000, plus another $5,000 for high schools.

Once collected, impact fees are frequently treated as general revenues. Thus, their purpose is subverted unless protected by complex rules.

However, paying its own way, begs a basic question about central control. No one, in spite of the monumental suffering by former socialist citizens, is advocating another try at Communism. Yet, Americans seem paralyzed to confront the failure of central control. The predictable message from failing central control systems is just a little more central control should do the trick. If we know that more central control reduces service and increase costs, then it should be obvious that the search for workable solutions must be in the direction of less central control.

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, http://i2i.org.

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)webmngr@i2i.org

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

The recent bankruptcy and closure of Sunset Beach Fitness and Racquet Club in Golden is a reminder that the laws of economics are real and that our political masters persist in ignoring them.

Sunset Beach was a successful and thriving Golden business. The owners participated in all of the right groups, were on city committees and donated willingly to the proper functions. But on May 21, 1991 the city sales tax was increased by 1%. Passage was by 11 votes and the number of spoiled ballots was strangely high, exceeding the margin of victory. Disaffected citizens claimed foul, circulated initiative petitions to bring the matter to a second vote and filed suits.

For a politician spending money is like a cocaine fix to an addict. They were not about to be dissuaded by mere citizens and the city invalidated 84% of the petition signatures to avoid a repeat election.

The sales tax increase yielded a $1,500,000 per year windfall. The revenue stream was quickly committed to bonds. Since this was shortly before the voters enacted the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, which requires voter approval for governments to issue bond, the city of Golden avoided having to ask the voters for permission to go into debt. No expense was be spared for a Taj Mahal Recreation Center. Rec Centers are not bad, but they can cause problems for taxpaying businesses.

When the Rec Center opened in 1994, Sunset Beach monthly gross revenues declined $10,000.  At 5% interest, $10,000 represents the monthly return that $2,400,000 would yield. Thus, Sunset Beach’s market value decreased $2,400,000. The investors would not get back their investments.

Golden had conducted a Financial Feasibility Analysis. The analysis stated that because other governments had built expensive Rec Centers, Golden could also. This is political rationalization for keeping up with the Joneses.

The study estimated that a Golden Rec Center would have a cost recovery ratio of 55%.Cost recovery ratio means that users will pay only 55% of operating costs. Non-users would pay all other costs: 45% of the operating costs plus the capital/construction costs. Essentially, through the force of government, Rec Center users make non-users pay over half of the cost of the Rec Center.

The unfairness of non-users having to pay for services of users is compounded by impact on competitive markets. Normal businesses do not have the force of government or the power to redistribute costs to people who don’t want the business’s service. The only revenue source for businesses is voluntary  exchange with customers. Under Golden-style collectivism, collapse of competition and market failure are inevitable. Because hidden and redistributed costs are still costs, government monopoly yields less service at higher cost.

Anti-trust laws recognize the importance of fair competition. Corporations are prohibited from engaging in certain types of predatory conduct. Penalties are severe.

Government sponsored market failures are shockingly common. The City of Denver, not content with being in the ski resort, land development, and golf course businesses, unabashedly discusses spending $107,000,000 to build a city-owned hotel. The Foothills Park and Recreation District is seeking $41 million, of which $16 million would build a Rec Center near a competing business. Golden wants its 16,000 people to pay $54 million ($3,400 each) for a golf course.

The absurdity is mind-boggling. Taxpayers who don’t golf or use Rec Centers are forced to pay for  millions of dollars in capital assets, yet receive no benefit. How can Golden claim that golf should be subsidized? Subsidized golf courses tax the poor to benefit  the rich.

When will politicians learn to resist the seductive false promises of socialism? When one person is unfairly injured so that another can gain, society makes no progress.

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, http://i2i.org. He is co-author of a chapter on unfair government competition with small business, in the book Colorado in the Balance, and also author of a longer Issue Paper on the subject.

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)webmngr@i2i.org

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

A century ago, with the exception of railroads, transportation in the United States was by dirt road. Similar to growing demand for mobility in today’s third world economies, the push to get America out of the mud in the early twentieth century was led by bicycle enthusiasts. Automobile ownership was a novelty. But when rising personal wealth met declining automobile costs–thanks to Henry Fords assembly line for the Model T–more and more people began to enjoy automobile ownership. The trend is irreversible.

Visionaries foresaw superhighways. The first plan was finalized in the 1930s. Planning for highway construction was accelerated during World War II–partly to ensure that ex-soldiers would have jobs when the war ended. Planners also saw the mobility advantage that the Autobahns gave to the German army, as forces could be moved rapidly from one part of the country to the other.

Financing was a problem because automobile ownership was still relatively small, war debt was high, and highway use and requisite support systems were still in their infancy.

The U.S. Constitution was also a problem. Nowhere did the Constitution give Congress authority over transportation. Three of the greatest presidents — Madison, Monroe, and Jackson — had vetoed as unconstitutional efforts by Congress to intrude into transportation, such as by creating national roads.

In 1956, Congress found a way to circumvent the Constitution. Federal road-building would fly under the banner of the “National Defense Highway Act.” Congress did have authority over national defense, and highways did help national defense. All Interstate highways would be owned and operated by the states. The user-fee debate was decided in favor of the gasoline tax over tolls. A critical consideration was that tolls would discourage increased car use and greater car use was needed to aid financing. The “temporary” 4 cents per gallon Federal gasoline tax would cease when the 40,000 mile network was competed.

Every dollar spent on construction yielded five dollars in direct economic benefits. Travel time between cities such Pittsburgh and Philadelphia plunged. It became easier and cheaper to transport goods between producers and markets. One cause of the prosperity of the 1960s was the increased wealth and efficiency generated by the new interstate highway system–the Internet of its time.

The years went by. Construction was completed before 1985. The Federal gasoline tax grew to 18.4 cents. The Constitutional issue was forgotten. Use grew, further augmenting revenues. Special interests began tapping into the Highway Trust Fund. The gas tax has been perverted into a general funding source for airports, waterways, buses, Amtrak, the Coast Guard, light rail, and the national debt. Two-thirds of the states put more money into the Highway Fund than they get back. Money recovered is subject to innumerable conditions and delays.

Colorados transportation philosophy has been a victim of the schizophrenic attitude toward population growth. Over the long term, Colorado has experienced growth at about 2% per year. When growth is less, there is concern; when growth is more, exclusionists call for less. The anti-growth assumption is that if transportation were less efficient, fewer people would move here.

Special interests have succeeded at politicizing transportation. DRCOG (Denver Regional Council of Governments) recently updated its Metro Vision 2020, Regional Transportation Plan. Variety of travel opportunities is weighted more heavily than meeting the needs of taxpayers. Perhaps DRCOG, as a vestige of the outmoded Central Planning era, has outlived its usefulness.

Of the $16.34 billion available in the Denver Region to address transportation, nearly 60%, or $9.63 billion, are for government transit. This funding will increase light and commuter rail by 1400% and highway capacity by 24.5%–even though travel demand is projected to rise 48%. The 23.5% highway deficiency (48% minus 24.5%) is a measure of how much worse Colorado highways are going to get.  Government transit gets the lion’s share of funding, but  picks up only 4.04% of the additional demand. DRCOG predicts, accurately, that “severe congestion will increase significantly.”

If Colorado’s anti-transportation policy is not soon reversed, the consequences will be dire.

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, http://i2i.org.

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)webmngr@i2i.org

Copyright 2000

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

Elementary school students learn the opposite of politics. The Scientific Method, both used in school and required in Science Fair projects, mandates that a proposition, idea, question or assertion be proven. The notion is that facts are verifiable and repeatable. That June 21 has more daylight than any other day of the year can be proven by observing, measuring, and verifying with other research. It is an indisputable scientific fact.

The search for fact-based knowledge is not easy. T.C. Chamberlin seems in regular cycle to be forgotten and rediscovered. Chamberlin was a geologist and President of the University of Wisconsin in 1890 when he wrote his most important work. He observed that even objectively motivated and well-disciplined scientists fell victim to the phenomenon of “premature conclusion.” He wrote, “The central psychological fault is intellectual affection The vitality of study quickly disappears when the object sought is a mere collocation of dead, unmeaning facts A working hypothesis may with the utmost ease degenerate into a ruling theory.” The scientific method breaks down and is corrupted when scientists become biased toward a particular conclusion. Eagerness to reach conclusion, interferes with the ability to challenge veracity. Ultimately, bad science will fail the test of time.

If it is this difficult to for those honestly seeking truth to hold focus, then how successful can the political process be when interests work complex strategies with the sole intent of achieving a preconceived outcome? Truth is less important than victory. Failure has no consequence, because taxpayers are forever burdened to make the best of the situation.

The federally required Environmental Impact Statement process was originally designed to identify and quantify truths. However, the EIS has become a tool of interests to advance political agendas.

National experts have observed the Colorado Southeast Corridor EIS as particularly flawed. This is the study that is supposed to justify Light Rail along I-25. Blatantly false statements in the Major Investment Study should have caused an objective Colorado Department of Transportation to disqualify the offending consultant from consideration to perform the EIS. That company’s business goal of building its light rail resume might also have been sufficient cause to select another.

The Independence Institute produced a 30 page footnoted comprehensive research paper with 38 pages of involved spreadsheets showing that improvements other than light rail would provide more mobility, less congestion and less environmental impact, while assigning most costs to those who directly benefit. Submitted for the public record, the research was summarily dismissed in a 5 page discussion by individuals apparently unable to comprehend the analysis.

Just as Socrates was condemned to death in 399 B.C. for revealing truths that a tyrannical state wished undisclosed, the EIS process has become an enemy of truth. Statements such as, “No light rail system has reduced traffic congestion,” are verifiable.

For the first time, Colorado voters approved use of tax dollars to construct light rail. Whether the Regional Transportation District’s prior outlay of over $300 million was an illegal use of public funds is a subject for another time. Referred Measure 4A was approved with a 65% “yes” vote. But 4A was “joined at the hip” with Referred Measure A, TRANS, which authorized the state to accelerate construction of 28 highways projects by incurring $1.7 billion in debt. TRANS received 62% yes. The “joined at the hip” message was that both projects had to be approved for voters to get either one. In other words, anti-automobile people were obliged to vote for highways in order to get light rail and pro-automobile folks were compelled to vote “yes” on light rail to get highways.

Since November 1999 politicians have rushed to declare the election result a mandate to construct rail. RTD is spending millions for MIS studies in every direction, a monorail to Vail was suggested and light rail in Colorado Springs, Greeley, Fort Collins and paralleling I-25 to Wyoming have been proposed, as if a single centralized technology could solve a decentralized transportation problem.

Voters have defeated every light rail tax increase until appended to desperately needed and long withheld highway improvements. As Chamberlin said, “If our vision is narrowed by a preconceived theory as to what will happen, we are almost certain to misinterpret the facts and to misjudge the issue.”

Not only is there no mandate to build rail, there is no factual basis to conclude that Denver will record the first ever light rail success. The Transportation Industrial Complex uses misperceptions, including the phony EIS process, to sustain and grow itself.

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow in Transportation Policy at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, http://i2i.org.

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)webmngr@i2i.org
Copyright 2000 I2I

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill, David Ottke

Subverting the will of the people by fixing elections strikes at the heart of the democratic process.

Shortly after the 2000 census is finished, powerful politicians will meet in virtual secrecy to decide who will be in power for the next decade.

It is a flaw of the winner-take-all two party system.  Gerrymandering is the process of redrawing election district boundaries to throw as many of the opposing party’s votes into as few districts as possible.  Thus, by conceding a few districts, the majority party enhances its margins in the legislative body and insures its control until the next census.  The natural consequence is that majority party voters living in minority party dominated districts lack both representation and an opportunity to achieve representation through the election process.  Minority parties never have a chance to become the majority. The threats of having third party views heard are suppressed even more than they are naturally.

In the November 1998 election, 79 of Colorado’s 100 General Assembly seats were filled.  Sixty-five House members and 14 Senators were elected.  One of the two major parties did not bother to field a candidate in 19 races. The number of uncontested races was an improvement over the 1996 high of 25.  Similar numbers were posted throughout the decade.  Is it that too few people care or are more sinister forces at play?

Candidates consider victories of over 55% as landslides.  By that standard 63 landslides occurred in the 79 General Assembly races in the 1998 election.  Otherwise stated fewer than 20 percent of the races had better than the faintest hope of a real election contest. But arguably 1998 may have been the most competitive General Assembly election of modern time due to term limits prohibiting 27 veteran legislators from running again.  Eighty per cent and 83% of Colorado House members were elected by landslides in 1996 and 1994 respectively.  If 80% of election results are predetermined, then the votes of 80% of voters do not matter.

The numbers at the federal level are worse.  Since World War II, Congressional re-election rates have ranged between 98% and 99%.  When turnover shot up to 7% in 1994, it was termed a “Revolution.”

If there is no election contest, “Is there an election?”  Americans ridicule the Communist system for providing only one candidate. Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, once said, “give me the right to nominate and you can vote for whomever you please.”  With superficial concern for declining voter turnout, election observers fail to comprehend the deeper message sent by voters as they increasingly exercise their right to abstain from voting.

Founding Father Elbridge Gerry, for whom gerrymandering is named, demonstrated how quickly commitment to democratic principles mutates into self interest.  As Governor of Massachusetts in 1812, he oversaw the drawing of election district boundaries to insurer the political result that he desired. Despite its profoundly undemocratic nature gerrymandering spread quickly. Early state constitutions always gave power to draw districts to the state legislature, usually with veto power given to the Governor.  This practice continues today in 32 states, including Colorado. More widespread than the well-known racial abuses, gerrymandering has become a tool for protecting incumbents from serious election challenges.

Recognition of the need for reform is not new.  At least four bills were considered by the Colorado General Assembly in 1981.  Two failed in the legislature and two were vetoed.  All four dealt with Congressional districting only and were seen by the Democratic Governor as maneuvering by the Republican Legislature to capture more Congressional seats. In 1990 State Senator Terry Considine introduced his Election Reform Amendment.  It was designed to restore competition to the election process.  In addition to term limits and campaign finance disclosure, ERA put redistricting in the hands of an independent commission and required that the number of party registered voters be balanced in each district. Lacking interest in such changes the General Assembly quickly disposed of the ERA.

The conflict of interest of having legislative bodies draw election districts is obvious.  Redistricting must be entrusted to a body of independent citizens more interested in increasing election competition than lightening the re-election load.  In addition to the current criteria of equal population and contiguousness, a compactness criteria must be enforced. The goal is to minimize the ratio of perimeter to surface area, making appendages to capture desired population clusters more difficult.

Elections are an integral part of both the democratic process and the American culture.  The notion of an increasingly constrained election process has no future.  Lacking the necessary changes, more extreme reforms such as abandonment of geographic representation altogether, may be on the horizon.

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Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, http://i2i.org.

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)webmngr@i2i.org

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

At no cost to taxpayers space technology is making its greatest strides since completion of the Apollo Mission. And the result may turn Colorado into the world’s space shuttle capital.

Since its creation in 1958 NASA continues to spend over $13 billion of taxpayer money annually.  NASA has had many great successes.  But the space shuttle has failed to reduce the cost of access to space via reusable launch technology.  Each launch costs taxpayers close to $500,000,000.  The space shuttle does allow the purchase of on-board lockers for conducting in-space experiments, but scheduling backlogs mean delays of years.  Budget constraints are likely to yield fewer future launches.  Recently asked what it would take to return to the moon, NASA responded by stating, 20 years.  Those old enough, recall in the 1960s that the task took only 10 years when there was no experience and no technology to achieve it.  NASA has evolved into a bureaucracy.

In July 1996 a group of Saint Louis business people put up $10,000,000 to fund the X Prize.  The prize will be awarded to the private group that launches a reusable launch vehicle into space two times within fourteen days.  Sixteen teams registered to compete.  Pioneer Rocket Plane of Lakewood, Colorado is one of the contestants.

To succeed a new technological approach is needed.  At $10,000 per pound old technology is too expensive.  The first stage of a three-stage rocket gets a payload only to about 100,000 feet altitude and consuming about 70% of the launch cost. Because air is a compressible fluid, it is heaviest near the surface of the earth and hard to move through.  The new approaches use many different means to reach altitude before launching into space.  Expectations are that the X Prize will be awarded before 2002 and launch costs will decline by as much as 90%.  At $1,000 per pound dozens of new space markets will open from tourism and medical treatments to the manufacture of faster computer chips and better pharmaceuticals.  The human race will experience a quality of life paradigm shift at least as significant as the invention of the microcomputer.

From a public policy perspective, the inevitable paradigm shift is less relevant than the leverage a few visionaries have exercised to motivate the change.  There is no financial risk because the prize is not paid out unless and until there is success.  In addition results are achieved for less than 0.1% of NASAs annual budget.  The startling contrast deserves a closer look.

The notion of a prize being awarded to someone who successfully advances technology is not new.  In 1714 maritime navigation was revolutionized 20 years after the British Parliament offered a 20,000 pound prize for development of an accurate clock that could be used at sea.

The December 1986 around the earth non-stop non-refueled flight by Voyager won $1,000,000.  The Voyager was designed, constructed and flown by 2 innovators at a cost of  $5,000,000.  Design-only by one of the giant aerospace firms has been estimated at 20 times that amount.

Possibly, the most historically famous prize was the Orteig Prize.  Raymond Orteig, a New York hotel entrepreneur, offered $25,000 in 1919 to the first team to fly an airplane from New York to Paris non-stop.  The prize motivated numerous teams to compete.  Together they spent about $400,000 to develop their respective approaches.  The team lead by Charles Lindbergh succeeded on May 21, 1927.  Lindberghs $25,000 cost was offset by the winnings.  Orteig succeeded in stimulating 16 times as much research as he directly funded and automatically aligned himself with the winning technology and limited his financial exposure.  Theoretically, he could have chosen to back Lindbergh directly instead of offering the prize, but then he would have had to decide in advance which technology held the best prospect of success and Lindberghs incentive to make his approach work cheaply and quickly would have been diminished.  Because Lindberghs was not the most likely to succeed at the onset, it is likely that Orteig would have chosen another and the succeeding technology would not have been so quickly discovered.

In 20th century America hundreds of prizes have been offered.  Most have been in the aerospace field.  But to apply the prize idea to other technological fields such as environmental protection, environmental clean up, reusable energy, fuel cells, cleaner automobiles, traffic congestion, and many more all that is needed is leadership and will.

When government research labs consume taxpayer money like fuel on a campfire, at some point the question needs to be raised, can we achieve more with less?

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Golden, http://i2i.org.

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)webmngr@i2i.org

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

Like here in Denver, the Orange County Transportation Authority in California has expressed an interest in constructing light rail. The conflict of interest is obvious. If OCTA finds in favor of LRT, it gets a bigger budget, more staff, more prestige, and more power.

Suspecting that the OCTA might be overstating the benefits, a Grand Jury was convened to investigate the claims being made by the local transit agency and to study the process by which this decision will be made.

The Grand Jury Report was released in May 1999. The Grand Jury was not kind in its comments about OCTA activities. Jurors looked at 12 LRT systems built in various parts of the country over the last two decades and found that none can be called a success. The report stated that the national experience with urban LRT systems ability to solve traffic congestion, air pollution, and related urban problems has been poor.

Criticizing the OCTA for doing more promoting than studying, the Jurys analysis suggests that Orange County would experience, negligible impact on traffic congestion, less effectiveness than predicted, more expense than predicted, an inflexible system, and no improvement in commuter travel times, energy conservation, or safety.

The Jury went on to instruct OCTA to amend outreach programs to include data on the national experience, to establish and publish measurable goals, and that disinterested experts should provide historical perspectives. The Jury suggested that the public deserves full disclosure of all perceived benefits, drawbacks, costs and impacts that this project would have before it is approved or disapproved.

In short, the Orange County Grand Jury ordered its government transit agency to stop lying.

Perhaps a Grand Jury is needed to look into the Regional Transportation District. RTDs recent cancellation of its public forum on LRT is merely the most recent example in a long history of questionable actions.

The decision to have the Great Debate was approved early in 1999 by the new RTD Board. With a budget of $30,000, six nationally recognized experts were invited to debate both sides of the issue on September 13.The Urban Land Institute, a pro-LRT group, was allowed to become a co-sponsor by contributing an additional $10,000.

Because the question about LRT effectiveness is nationwide, interest was national. C-SPAN and CNN considered coverage. Advocates on both sides looked forward to offering their best arguments.

The debate controversy started when RTD decided to charge a higher admission fee to the general public than to elected officials and bureaucrats. With some free admissions, the anticipated 200 attendees would have produced about $5,000.RTDs decision to cancel the debate will cost RTD more money than to have waived the registration fee altogether. Is it possible that another agenda is at play? Is it possible that RTD feared that the debate would put too much information in front of the public immediately prior to its November tax election?

RTD deceit has a long history. The 1973 special election that gave RTD its current sales tax base experienced several election irregularities. Voters have yet to be offered the opportunity to re-authorize the 10 year plan approved in 1973.That election authorized 20% to increased bus service. The remainder was for rapid transit construction (not LRT). Having spent the money on bus service, RTD asked for another tax increase in 1980 for LRT.

Undeterred by the 1980 defeat, RTD continued to spend millions without authorization on planning and right-of-way. Finally in 1990 RTD spent $116,000,000 to construct the LRT demonstration line. But before demonstration line performance data was available, RTD proceeded to extend LRT south on Santa Fe Drive. The extension was to cost taxpayers $177,000,000.At RTD the $20,000,000 spent on Santa Fe right-of-way is not a cost because it is hidden. In total, RTD has subversively spent over $300,000,000 on LRT without authorization.

Much of what RTD tells the public is less than true. RTD frequently claims increasing ridership without mentioning that they count boardings, not people. Even those increases are smaller than population growth or RTDs increasing tax take. This means, of course, that unit costs are increasing and market share is decreasing.

The LRT ridership numbers estimated for the I-25 Corridor are 30,000 versus 300,000 for the highway. But the counting methods differ. Similar counting yields that LRTs 3% market share would serve about 10% to 15% as many people as a single highway lane.

RTD has spent millions to propagate the false perception that LRT will relieve traffic congestion and air pollution. It is time that the truth be told. Because RTD cannot be trusted, Colorado should convene a Grand Jury to expose the truth.

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow in Transportation Policy at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, http://i2i.org.

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)webmngr@i2i.org

Copyright 2000 Independence Institute

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill, Chris Baker

Have you ever been stuck in traffic on the freeway only to look over and see a nearly empty car-pool lane? While they may have seemed like a good idea, unfortunately High Occupancy Vehicle lanes are woefully underused. For most of us, carpooling to work is simply impractical, as a result HOV lanes remain near-empty during rush-hour while unrestricted lanes are often bumper-to-bumper.

Colorado Governor Owens is expected to sign legislation that would offer a  solution to the problem of low use in HOV lanes, while at the same time reducing traffic congestion. This legislation would allow the conversion of HOV lanes into High Occupancy Toll lanes or HOT lanes.

Simply put, converting HOV lanes into HOT lanes would allow commuters the  opportunity pay a toll to use HOV lanes without carpooling. The toll rate would vary to insure that a “free flow” of traffic is sustained. The incentives for carpool formation are unchanged. Carpoolers and buses would  have the same free access to these lanes as they do now, but these lanes would no longer be so dramatically underused.

While not widespread, the usage of HOT lanes across the country is growing. On Interstate 15 in San Diego, a HOT lane that opened in 1996 has been hailed a great success by commuters and transportation experts alike.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of HOT lanes is consumer choice. From time to  time all of us find ourselves in a situation where time is of the essence only to be stuck in traffic. Therein lies the advantage of a HOT lane. You would have the option of paying a toll to bypass traffic when you needed to  and not paying when it wasnt important.

Critics of HOT lanes are fond of calling them Lexus Lanes, implying somehow  that only the wealthy will benefit. This implication is incorrect and overlooks certain market fundamentals. Studies of California-91 HOT lanes found virtually no socio-economic difference between users and non-users of the HOT lanes. Non-users of HOT lanes favor them because there is less traffic in the free lanes causing their trip times to decrease.

Clearly some people who can afford to do so will be willing to pay every day  to either save time or to increase their personal safety. However, nearly half the users of the California-91 HOT lanes only used it once a week, incurring toll costs that never exceeded more than a few dollars. HOT lanes are more akin to Ford lanes than to Lexus lanes.

HOV lanes were originally conceived as an means to entice Americans to  car-pool, thereby reducing pollution that cars emit into the environment. But the unwillingness of commuters to carpool have left these the environmental benefits of HOV lanes largely unrealized. Converting these lanes to HOT lanes will be a significant step towards realizing some environmental benefit.

When traffic congestion exists, air pollution emissions are 250% higher than  in free-flowing traffic. By decreasing congestion and increasing the free-flow of traffic, HOT lanes clearly reduce pollution.

As a result, support for HOT lanes comes from all across the political  spectrum. Not only do HOT lanes find support from Republican advocates of more highways, but also from environmental groups who see HOT lanes as a legitimate way to reduce pollution emissions from automobiles.

The HOT lane legislation expected to be signed by the Governor calls for the  Colorado Department of Transportation to convert one existing HOV lane into a HOT lane as an experimental project. In all likelihood, this will be the HOV lane on I-25 north between downtown Denver and the Boulder Turnpike. If, as expected, this project is a success the concept of HOT lanes should be expanded to other areas as well.

The metropolitan Denver area is straining under the burden of traffic  congestion.  And the cost of traffic congestion is staggering. Studies have shown that the economic impact of traffic congestion nationally is in the billions of dollars. Used properly, HOT lanes are an effective tool to deal with that congestion.

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Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, http://i2i.org. Chris Baker writes on state issues for the Institute.

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)webmngr@i2i.org

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Copyright 2000 I2I

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

The phony claim that the federal budget is balanced underscores the need to privatize. Congress has conveniently borrowed surpluses from nearly 30 trust funds including $100 billion this year from social security to assert fiscal responsibility. The truth is that the trust funds have been robbed and the national debt continues to soar. Currently at $5.5 trillion, the national debt recently surpassed $20,000 for every person in the U.S. Heavy taxation and public debt fund a too-large government sector. Privatization means shrinking the government sector.

The 20th century has seen a global swing to socialism. Contrary to its utopian ideals, socialism impoverishes the people, despoils the environment, tramples individual rights, suppresses freedom, and fosters the evolution of totalitarian leaders such as Hitler and Stalin. Socialism has murdered more human beings in the name of “good” than have all religious persecutions through all of history. In every case, socialism has collapsed in total failure. Socialism has no redeeming qualities.

When most of the world’s nations became more socialist, the U.S. followed. In 1900, the U.S. government sector (combined federal, state, and local government) consumed 8.1% of U.S. economy. By 1989, it had grown to 35.2%. Estimates currently put it at 50%. The U.S. trend to socialism was comparatively slow. With less socialism than other countries, the U.S. economy grew stronger and Americans become enriched. Its 6% of the world population enjoys 25% of the world economic production. The average American has nearly ten times the wealth as most others.

The desire for economic growth has motivated countries to reverse their socialist policies. Nearly every country in the world is moving to shrink its government sector. This is achieved by various methods of privatization. The three major categories of privatization are divestiture, deregulation, and outsourcing.

The most significant privatization successes in the U.S. have been in bringing competition to various monopoly industries. The previous assumption was that they were “natural monopolies” and could operate more efficiently if protected from competition. The deregulated industries are airlines (1977), trucking (1980), railroads (1980), natural gas (1984), and long distance telephone (1984). Competition brought immediate benefits to consumers. The cost of service in inflation-adjusted-dollars declined 13% after two years, 22% after five years, and 40% after ten years. The Brookings Institute calculates these economic efficiencies as $53.1 billion per year or $200 per person. Estimates are that impending electric power deregulation will add $100 to each persons pocketbook. Most people would have considered these industries “private” before they were “privatized.”

These examples show that the word “privatization” poorly describes this process. Private firms frequently privatize by outsourcing and divesting. Outsourcing is the simple admission that the best computer chip manufacturer may not be equally competent at overseeing janitors. Divestiture is the companys move from a weak to a stronger market. The failure to outsource and divest means that a firms ability to specialize, focus and compete is diminished. Ultimately, the firm cannot capture sufficient revenue and ceases to exist.

With the goal of bringing economic benefits to consumers, governments have a role to play in maximizing competition in both sectors. The economic continuum has socialism and capitalism at opposite extremes with many intermediate gradations. Service is lowest and cost is highest at the socialist extreme. Cost is lowest and service is highest at the competitive extreme.

Some intermediate gradations in order of decreasing efficiency are (1) unrestricted competition, (2) oligopoly (few suppliers), (3) private sector monopoly, (4) government protected private monopoly (utility franchises), (5) government monopoly, (6) government protected government monopoly (mass transit), and (7) socialism. Any step in the direction of more competition holds the promise of benefits to consumers. There are privatization experiences where moving government monopoly functions to private monopolies failed to produce benefits because of the lack of competition. On the other hand, the five utilities discussed illustrate the potential of moving a government protected private sector monopoly to a higher level of competition.

The notion of benefits to consumers brings government cost accounting to the forefront. Thomas Huxley wrote, “Facts do not cease to exist merely because they are ignored.” Government cost accounting defies a Huxley’s law corollary, “Costs do not cease to exist merely because they are hidden.” The privatization dilemma for government is that certain indirect costs are not known, are not properly accounted, or are not directly recoverable.

Politicians and bureaucrats are, at best, disingenuous with their constituents when they claim that privatization does not work, is expensive, or cannot be done.

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute.

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)webmngr@i2i.org

Colorado Leader, Denver, Colorado, February 7, 1998

Term Limits

By Dennis Polhill

The Colorado Supreme Court’s decision recently on striking down Amendment 12 highlights the court’s overtly political agenda. Instead of respecting the people’s right to petition the government for change, the justices found in favor of professional politicians.

Amendment 12, approved by voters in the November 1996 election that would have notified voters of a candidate’s position on term limits through a notation on the ballot, was struck down as “coercive.” Chief Justice Vollack wrote that the amendment “takes away from elected officials the right to exercise their own judgment and vote the best interest of their constituencies as they perceive them.” Take away their judgment? How so?

Amendment 12 would have given the voters information on a legislator’s legislative actions on Congressional term limits. It would not have prevented legislators from voting their conscience, nor would it have punished them for voting against Congressional term limits—unless you consider stating the truth about a legislator’s legislative actions as “punishment.”

The court’s conjecture that the ballot label would harm all legislators who vote against term limits is both false and stinks of the reasoning that politicians have a “right” to hold office. Popular legislators who do not support term limits would continue to be elected. In fact, many term limits detractors would find the ballot labeling a useful means to pick candidates who will vote against the reform.

Voting is not a knee jerk reaction for the citizens of Colorado. Many factors are involved in picking a candidate, term limits being one of them. For the court to assume that all term limit foes will be thrown out of office infers an innate tunnel vision on the part of the electorate that is completely unfounded.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “And say, finally, whether peace is best preserved by giving energy to the government, or information to the people. This last is most certain, and the most legitimate engine of government. Educate and inform the whole mass of people. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” Only recently the court ruled against giving information to the people in favor of bolstering professional politicians. How far we have strayed from the Founding Fathers’ vision.

But all is not lost. In November of 1998, Colorado voters will have the opportunity to vote for the “Congressional Term Limits Declaration.” It will allow candidates to declare and demonstrate their support for term limits by pledging to voluntarily serve not more than three terms in the House of Representatives or two terms in the Senate (the same limits repeatedly approved by voters in Colorado and many other states). Candidates are also empowered to authorize information to appear on the ballot.

Because the declaration is completely voluntary, it differs substantially from Amendment 12. If a candidate did not want to sign the declaration, he or she would not have to, nor would any language describing a candidate’s legislative actions be on the ballot. On the other hand, a candidate may decide to sign the first or both parts of the declaration.

The first part pledges a candidate to serve only the specified amount of time. The second part asks the Secretary of State to place this information on the ballot. In the case that a candidate breaks his or her pledge to serve three terms in the House and has signed the second part, the words, “Running for xth term after declaring intentions to limit service to no more than 3 terms” will appear on the ballot next to his or her name. Since the “Congressional Term Limits Declaration” is 100% voluntary, the courts will not be able to insinuate that it coerces legislators to vote in a particular manner.

Candidates who take the declaration will be promising to represent their constituents as citizen legislators not career politicians. Instead of promoting a long career in Washington, self-limiters will serve the interests of their constituents. Colorado voters want representatives who arc connected to the people and the concerns of their state and who will work efficiently to promote those interests. Only a self-limiting member, who has six years (or twelve in the Senate) to make a difference, will fulfill those promises.

While the Colorado Supreme Court finds that legislators have a “right” to be shielded from the electorate while holding office, they can not object to a candidate voluntarily declaring and demonstrating his or her support for term limits. If Colorado voters decide to enact the “Congressional Term Limits Declaration” they will be saying. like Jefferson, that the more the voters know, the better.

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, a free-market think-tank located in Golden, Colorado. The Institute’s web site is http://i2i.org.

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

There is no truth to the belief that light rail improves traffic congestion. A look at the failure of light rail in Portland, Oregon and elsewhere shows how wise Denver-area voters were to reject light rail in a landslide.

Locals in Portland report “light rail actually put more cars on the road.” Portland’s Environmental Coalition opposes building more rail because light rail forces more people into cars. Portland’s experience is not unique.

Of the 10 metropolitan areas that have built light rail in the last decade, only San Diego reports a higher system ridership. In other words, in nine out of ten cities, after light rail is built, total mass transit ridership declines. The decline occurs because consumers are rational. Rail forces more transfers, which increases travel times and decreases convenience. San Diego’s ridership is up only because light rail takes tourists to Mexico.

All infrastructure, including roads, is constructed with fixed capacity. If the government owns the infrastructure, and treats the infrastructure as collective property, then there are no incentives against overuse of the infrastructure.

Overcrowding does not occur when infrastructure is privately owned, as with hotel rooms, restaurants, airlines, shopping malls, athletic clubs, telephones, and electricity. Pricing and other value-added incentives abound. Competition for customers encourages innovation.

Fortunately for commuters, automobile technology improvements that can be implemented in just a few years will allow even the most congested roads to carry many more vehicles.

Moreover, innovative programs to shift highway demand away from peak times (rush hour) towards times when highways are not congested are being considered all over the United States. Gridlock may soon be a thing of the past, thanks to market forces.

No wonder that collectivists were in such a hurry to push a massive tax increase for state-controlled transit. In a few years, the problem will be solved, without their help.

But, mass transit advocates insist, mass transit is not just about getting people from one place to another. Mass transit is complicated by its “entitlement” component. A 1989 management study of the State of Colorado went so far as to suggest that transit be removed from the Transportation Department and reassigned to the Social Services Department.

But as a social welfare institution, mass transit is a very poor use of resources. About 40% of metro area transportation funding goes to mass transit, even though mass transit carries under 2% of commuters. Subsidies pay 80% of the cost of every mass transit boarding. Such huge subsidies to such a small group might be justifiable if the subsidies were for people in need. But over half of all mass transit are affluent.

In any case, travel in the metro area is increasingly from suburb to suburba type of travel which is unserviceable by a large centrally controlled bureaucracy.

The national trends are just as bad for mass transit as are the Denver trends. Mass transit ridership has declined since World War II in every census in every city. The reality is that fewer people live in tenements and work in factories.

Transit fans play on nostalgia and point to old systems as “working.” Yet Chicago ridership today is 1/500th of its peak. The numbers worsen when expressed as market share after population growth adjustment.

Even in New York City, where population density is 10 times Denver’s, where congestion is so bad that many people cannot own a car, and rail travel volume is nearly 5 times that of second place Chicago, rail accounts for less than 10% of all travel.

Subsidies in 1995 dollars for mass transit total $350 billion, roughly the same cost as constructing the entire interstate highway system. Yet ridership has never been lower. Even the U.S. Federal Transit Agency, which gives out transit subsidies, admits that mass transit has problems.

To move from dysfunctional bus service to even less functional rail is clearly no solution and serves only to protect a bureaucracy from the possibility of downsizing. If a successful bureaucratic-style approach to mass transit were known, it would have been tried somewhere and copied.

It may be that the massive centrally controlled protected government monopoly approach to mass transit is no longer workable. If so, it may be time to take a look at the opposite approach: privatize, devolve, and legalize competition.

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank located in Golden, Colorado. http://i2i.org

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)webmngr@i2i.org
Copyright 2000 Independence Institute

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

As the Colorado Legislative approaches its final month, the words of Thomas Paines Common Sense ring with modern meaning: “We may be as effectively enslaved by the want of laws as by submitting to laws made for us.”

The job of legislating becomes more difficult as the pace and complexity of society intensifies. Lobbyist and special interest groups are more numerous and more sophisticated. Legislation able to survive the process is less relevant as substantial issues are ignored or left to a more active citizen initiative process.

In response to these disturbing trends and dilemmas, the Colorado Legislature may choose one of two paths. The “less-for-more” path is the default position: ignore major societal events and trends. The Legislature works harder, trying to force an outmoded industrial-age legislative process to work. Industrial-age policy conflicts were largely one- dimensional with two opposing views, such as business versus labor. Ultimately, efforts of the Legislature to focus, prioritize, and intensify will fail to force an outmoded system to work. The Legislature can expect to continue to produce less results for more effort.

To pursue the path of “more-for-less” the Legislature must have the political courage to experiment with new systems that may increase legislative effectiveness. The political risk of legislative effectiveness is not trivial. It is always easier to blame others or the system for failure. However, the stress and challenge that legislative effectiveness brings will also be enriching and rewarding to most legislators.

How might an ongoing intractable issue of great importance to many be advanced? Either the Colorado House of Representatives or Senate may take the lead. The body elects a five member committee to write “breakthrough” legislation on say K-12 Education Reform. The committee election will take several weeks. After each vote, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. After the final vote the votes of the sixth candidate are redistributed to the five elected. Each committee members weight in committee is measured by final votes received.

If the five member committee reaches unanimous agreement on its proposal, then the full legislative body may vote the proposal “up-or-down” with NO amendments. If the committee cannot reach unanimity, standard rules apply when the proposal reaches the full body. Without unanimity, the committees reform proposal stands little more chance of surviving the legislative process than any innovative proposal from any legislator.

Unanimity gives all committee members great negotiating clout. The needs and priorities of each committee member are known to all. If trade-off decisions are not made fairly, the committees hope of unanimity are dashed. Stonewalling is discouraged, because everyone would know who is responsible for jeopardizing the process and their credibility is injured. Both the committee and its members will wish to maximize their credibility as the proposal advances and for future issues.

An environment of constructive dialog is created by the election of a “select” committee charged with drafting breakthrough legislation. With a list of prioritized concerns members can negotiate and make trade-off choices intelligently. By yielding on lesser concerns, large concerns are protected and opponents concerns can be accepted. The product is likely to be a more efficient public policy; one that benefits many interests significantly rather than one that benefits one interest at the expense of many others.

The fact that similar systems have worked is sufficient proof to justify experiment. The military base closing dilemma at the Federal level illustrates how legislative bodies can do the right thing by adopting innovative procedures.

In 1984 there were over 4000 military installations in the U.S. Only 312 were considered by the military to be “significant and necessary.” Although Congressional rhetoric called for reductions, the system of “reciprocal pork barrel” motivated Congress to put $6 billion in the 1985 Defense Department budget that was not requested. To make things worse, Congress regularly cut essential expenditures in order to accommodate its pet projects. Eventually public outrage grew to the point that Congress agreed to tie its own hands so that a workable solution could be implemented. In 1990 Congress created the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission. The law prohibited Congress from making any amendments to the Commissions base-closing recommendations. Thus, Congress decision was condensed to “all-or-nothing.” The process worked. The issue was finally resolved.

Congress is currently considering a similar commission to make corrections to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) use in the calculation of entitlement Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). Most people agree that the current method of calculating CPI exaggerates annual COLA, but various groups cannot agree as to how much.

By experimenting with this process during the 1997 off-session, not only does the Colorado Legislature have the opportunity to break through an important issue, but veteran legislators have an opportunity to add a significant crowning success to their many achievements.

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Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, a free-market think-tank located in Golden, Colorado.

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email) webmngr@i2i.org

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

Who should be exempt from taxes? By resoundingly defeating Amendment 11, Colorado voters said that private charities should continue to be exempt from property taxes. But there is a far larger tax exemption issue that has not been debated: should government entities be exempt from taxes? Why is it fair that ordinary citizens pay the state sales tax when they buy office supplies, but the Denver City Council, for example, is exempt from the tax?

The notion of governmental tax exemption is rooted in the famous 1819 case, McCullough v. Maryland, which held that “federal properties within city boundaries are not taxable.” The logic was rooted in the English common law of sovereign immunity wherein the king is immune because the king is the law.

But sovereign immunity is inconsistent with constitutionally limited government that recognizes citizens as the true sovereign. The 1819 McCullough ruling was adequate for simpler time when governments were fewer and their purpose was constitutionally limited. Taxation among governments would constitute a transfer providing no direct benefit and unnecessarily increasing costs.

But times have changed, and the immunity from taxation premise deserves rethinking. The U.S. now has nearly 90,000 governments. Colorado will soon exceed 2,000. Within Jefferson County there are 140.

The location of the Federal Center in the city of Lakewood imposes unreimbursed, costs of traffic control, snow removal, street sweeping, pothole patching, drainage, police and fire protection and so forth. Many more similar impacts accrue when a county government locates facilities in a small town. The Grand county school district is deprived of needed operating revenue because Winter Park ski resort (owned by the City of Denver) does not pay property tax. Some governments provide more free services to other governments than they receive. This inequity creates the incentive for feudalistic-like competition among them. They quickly and aggressively compete to secure new-found revenue sources and service rights.

Some non-traditional services (like day care) find as many as five levels of government laying claim to the right to provide the service, even though the service is also provided by non-profits and by taxpaying businesses.

When the government provides a service, such as running an athletic club, and the government is exempt from taxation, then the government enjoys a huge hidden cost advantage over private competitors. The hidden costs are not efficiencies; they are cost burdens that are redistributed to other governments, to taxpayers, and to individual consumers. The government clubs may drive the other athletic clubs out of businessnot because the government club is better, but because the private clubs have the burden of sales taxes, property taxes, corporate income taxes, etc., from which their government rival is exempt.

Back in 1819, government entities did not compete directly with private business or with each other. But today, governments are without limits.

As more tax-exempt government entities drive private competitors out of business, the tax base is eroded.

Ultimately, the government tax exemption issue forces us to consider the purpose of taxation. Under one philosophy of taxation, the purpose of taxation is to pay for government services. Under this philosophy, most government tax exemptions should be abolished. For example, if a county sales tax is used to fund fire protection for everyone in the county, a government owned athletic club or day care center in that county should also pay sales taxes, since the government facilities benefit from fire protection the same as everybody else.

The other philosophy of taxation is that taxes are to redistribute wealth from the unworthy to the worthy. Since governments are (supposedly) not motivated by monetary gain, while normal businesses operate under the profit motive, it is good that taxes redistribute wealth from people who work for private business to people who work for the government. The tax exemption for government entities, by giving government entities more money to spend on salaries, amounts to an indirect transfer of wealth from private to government hands.

Until society comes to grips with the core principles, the public policy problem will continue to grow. Complexities are inevitable when society has the basics wrong.

The simplest cure for the tax-exemption problem would be to make governments subject to ordinary taxes, the same as everyone else.

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Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, a free-market think-tank located in Golden, Colorado

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email) webmngr@i2i.org

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

When was the last time that the Colorado legislature admitted to an error? Being that no one can recall any such admission ever happening before, the vote of May 2, 1996, may have been an historical first. An effort to reverse the 1995 legislative sessions action to kill the right of initiative, failed by votes of 39 yes to 26 no, only six short of the two-thirds needed.
SCR-6 passed the Colorado House on April 21, 1995, by a vote of 50 to 15. It will appear on the November 5, 1996, ballot as Referred Measure A. If passed by simple majority of voters, it would amend the Colorado constitution to repeal simple majority rule on all future constitution votes by imposing a sixty percent vote hurdle. Colorado would become the first state to repeal majority rule. Because 81% of legislatively referred measures pass, but only 31% of initiated amendments receive voter approval, this infringement upon the constitutionally reserved powers of the people is particularly ominous. It would essentially kill citizen initiatives leaving exclusive power to amend the Colorado constitution at the discretion of the legislature.

Referred Measure A was sold as a reform to the initiative process whereby more initiative would change statutes and fewer would change the state constitution. Its scope was to create a signature differential, 4% and 6% respectively. Currently each requires 5% of the total votes for the office of the Secretary of State in order to appear on the ballot. However, in the waning days of the 1995 legislative session, and under the crush of bills awaiting action, its scope was suddenly and drastically changed and quickly passed. With hundreds of bills to dispose of, neither legislators nor the public had an opportunity to comprehend or to respond. Some suggest that these events were orchestrated for the very purpose of denying public input. The amended Referred Measure A passed the Senate with a 26 to 9 vote within a few days and with 3 days remaining in the session.

The failed 1996 proposal would have amended Referred Measure A back to its original scope. Twenty-four House members (37%) changed their votes. Referred Measure A would not have passed in 1995 except for the unusual tactics used. Legislators may recognize that their conduct may exact a price in the next election. Questionable tactics were again used in 1996 to delay the vote, and then to insure that the vote failed.

The practice of passing large numbers of bills in the last days of the session is clearly a formula for producing bad laws and should be changed. Perhaps each legislator should be allowed to introduce fewer bills. Perhaps bills passed in the last thirty days should be reaffirmed in the next session. Legislative reform is clearly a greater need than initiative reform.

A failed effort to change Referred Measure A gives the legislature the best of both worlds. It will be on the ballot to kill the initiative, and most legislators can claim to have been mislead into voting to subvert the Colorado constitution and the rights of the people. The prospect is great that the 1996 vote was motivated by the need for political cover. The 50 House and 26 Senate members who voted for Referred Measure A must be held accountable. To cleanse themselves of their vote they must insure the defeat of A in November.

Not to worry. The Colorado Legislature has insulated itself from accountability. The election system is non-competitive. In the 1994 election, only 6 incumbents (9%) were defeated in 65 House races. Only 3 of the 49 (6%) incumbents re-elected had to survive primary challenges. None were defeated. Of the 65 races, 54 (83%) won with more than 55% of the vote. Only 11 races (17%) were competitive. The Colorado Senate numbers are similar. Clearly, the fear of losing ones seat in the legislature is less real than rhetorical.

In 1998, once term limits begins to produce a citizen legislature as the founders envisioned, the arrogance of an entrenched political elite class will diminish and blatant attacks on the most fundamental rights of citizens will diminish. In the meantime citizens will have to be alert and to work hard to insure that the damage done by the legislature is limited.

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill, Stephen R. Mueller

The citizens and taxpayers of the Denver metropolitan region have shown their willingness to fund numerous imaginative public works and civic improvement projects over the past decade. Denver International Airport, at a cost of nearly five billion dollars, leads the list. But don’t forget the Colorado Convention Center, Coors Field, and Elitch’s. Then there’s the proposed new Ocean Journey aquarium and a new Broncos stadium. All of these imaginative projects were (and are being) sold to the public using questionable economic assumptions. Citizens were promised that by investing our tax dollars many economic benefits would accrue to the entire region.

For some of the projects, the promises may have come true. But for others, the promises were clearly lies from the very beginning. While the people making the promises may have been genuine in their beliefs that the projects would bring public benefit, they failed to recognize and publicly state the true and complete costs of the projects they were promoting.

Mass transit advocates are taking a different but no less imaginative route. For the past fifteen years the citizens of Denver have been told over and over again that mass transit will clean the air and alleviate traffic congestion. They know that when you continuously read, see, and hear the same information for a prolonged period of time that eventually you will start to believe it – even if it’s not true.

The Regional Transportation District has an annual advertising budget of nearly a million dollars per year. RTD buys newspaper ads, radio ads, and television ads. They sponsor community events. Do you know of any other governmental monopoly that spends that kind of money to promote itself? RTD is clearly trying to do more than simply inform the public about its services, it is trying to influence public opinion. Why? RTD wants light rail.

Do they want light rail because it will clean the air? No! RTD’s own numbers show that there will be less than 1/10th of 1% reduction in air pollution if we build a light rail system.

Do they want light rail because it will solve traffic congestion? No! RTD’s own numbers show that there will only be 1,600 new mass transit riders if they build the Southwest Corridor Light Rail. Considering that Denver’s two million people driver nearly forty million miles a day, removing 1,600 people from the roads won’t be noticed.

So why does RTD want to build light rail? The primary reason given in the recent Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) is that building light rail will ensure reliable transit times. Excuse us for asking, RTD, but are you really telling us that you want to spend nearly a quarter of a billion dollars for that? Have you forgotten about cost-benefit comparisons? If we’re going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, let’s at least do it for sensible reasons.

Could we offer another reason that RTD is supporting light rail? If light rail expanded to these other corridors, this agency’s budget will grow from $300 million dollars per year to almost a billion. Excuse us for being skeptical, but there are no other governmental agencies of that size in Colorado, except for the State itself.

The Independence Institute has gathered the numbers for the Southwest Corridor Light Rail line, and the numbers clearly show that it is a boondoggle of monumental proportions. Unfortunately for the taxpayers, the mass transit advocates are very imaginative. They are in the midst of “major investment studies” on three other corridors – and the word that we get is that these studies are being slanted to show the need for even more light rail.

A recent Forbes article told how the Metropolitan Transit Authority in Los Angeles has spent three billion dollars on rail, but had twenty percent decline in ridership since 1985. How much more money do Americans have to spend on light rail before they realize that the promises are false.

The proper role of government is to provide the things that citizens can’t provide themselves. The fact of the matter is that nearly all of us prefer the comfort, safety, and convenience of our own private automobiles – and we are willing to pay the costs associated with the automobile. While we agree that it is proper to fund public transportation services for those who are unable to access private modes, our generosity stops considerably short of the billion dollar per year level.

Instead of building light rail, why don’t we use this money to buy something that we can all use and enjoy – like open space and well-maintained highways.

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Stephen R. Mueller, P.E. and Dennis Polhill, P.E. are Senior Fellows with the Independence Institute, a think-tank in Golden, Colorado.

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)webmngr@i2i.org

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

Watch out Colorado.  The Regional Transportation District (RTD) has an insatiable appetite for tax dollars and they are eyeing the state coffers.  They have a plan to divert $40 to $50 million of state highway funds to extend light rail to Littleton.

RTD got its first taste of state revenues when they received a windfall from outside the district that allowed them to build the Light Rail Demonstration Project in downtown Denver.  Now they want a massive tax rate increase of 67% plus $50-60 million from the highway fund.  This kind of irresponsible behavior is a signal to policy leaders that it is time to engage in serious analysis of Colorados transportation problems and the role of structures like RTD.

Our reliance on government run mass transit started in the mid 1950s as trolleys went out of business and private bus systems attempted to fill the void.  However, as automobile ownership grew, buses eventually became subsidized operations.  To protect their revenue stream, regulations were adopted that prohibited competition.  As usual, this did not solve the problem and municipal bus systems are today even more unprofitable.  The U.S. Census Bureau data from 1980 and 1990 show a nationwide decline in mass transit ridership from 7.0% to 5.4%; and a Denver decline from 6.2% to 4.2%.  Because ridership has declined so severely the need for tax subsidies has increased and costs have skyrocketed.

The federal government has realized after pumping over $100 billion into mass transit that free money cannot reverse trends and will never yield a return on investment.

Colorado taxpayers have also been extremely generous.  Within the regional transportation district, taxpayers spend almost as much money on mass transit subsidies (.6% sales tax = $300 per family per year = $150 million) as they do to operate and maintain the entire 10,000 mile metro area road network!  We have been coughing up huge sums in the hope that somehow big, bureaucratized government agencies can reduce traffic congestion and move millions of us around without polluting the environment.

This line of reasoning does not take into consideration the massive changes that have occurred in our society over the last decade.  We have become more diverse, flexible and free.  Government planners have, for the most part, not come to grips with this phenomenon.  Transportation experts who propose the expenditure of billions of dollars to build systems on the industrial model of fixed routes, fixed schedules and serving concentrations of population have not yet made the intellectual transition into the technological age.

More and more people, inside and outside of government, have come to the realization that there is something very wrong with the way we are attempting to address our transportation problems in Colorado.  Some have suggested that perhaps the problems are structural in nature and propose to change the elected board of RTD back to an appointed board or merge it into another giant bureaucracy the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).  Then, it is posited, this massive, dysfunctional bureaucracy would suddenly become compassionate and efficient.  Another version of the bigger-is-better idea is a merger of RTD, the urban drainage district, the cultural district, the baseball district and others with the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG).

The concept of removing local control of such functions to a massive central control bureaucracy is also an industrial age idea and one thoroughly discredited.  That is why we should not turn away from an elected board of mere citizens.  Although there is no guarantee they will not become pawns of the bureaucracy, an elected board gives us a fighting chance to reshape the old system.

We believe the answers lie in the opposite approach.  For instance, a Boulder consulting firm has released a study that proves that smaller, more frequent buses decrease costs and increase ridership substantially (about 200%).  We also have the positive results of privatization.  When forced by the Colorado legislature to contract for 20% of its bus routes, RTD recognized initial savings of 45% even though routes, stops, schedules, fares and equipment were fixed by the bid specifications.  If RTD were a rational organization, it would have immediately privatized all of its bus routes or cut its budget in half.

Of course, exposing the benefits of privatization to a government agency is like forcing a vampire to stare at the sun.  It is, however, time to open the curtains.

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a think tank in Golden, Colorado.

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

A great deal has been said about the impact of the information age on various aspects of our lives. I am intrigued by the profound changes that the explosion of technology will have on our political system.

Alvin Toffler describes these changes as “waves,” with the agricultural age being the first, the industrial age the second and now we have entered the third wave of information and technology. To say that the scale of social change associated with the transition from first wave to second wave was gigantic is an understatement. The American Civil War was as much a result of the confrontation of the first and second wave, as it was a war over slavery or states rights.

Transition from second wave to third wave will be equally seismic.

The seeds of this new age were planted about 1950. Its impact has accelerated with the introduction of the personal computer in 1980, and now the Internet. Already more than one thousand individuals in the Denver metro area have set up personal bulletin boards on their home computers. It is predicted that Internet servers such as CompuServe will be obsolete in less than a decade, television in five years. Clearly transition trauma from the current age to the next will be greater because the time line has been compressed. Individuals will feel the world shift under their feet in their lifetimes.

The move to an information society cannot be stopped, slowed or steered. Individuals and institutions with a vested interest in the second wave will do all in their power to resist change. Industrial society gave both economic freedom and personal freedom to individuals. The information society will produce even more economic and personal freedom for most people.

Our political system is as vulnerable to the effects of the information age as is our economy. Education, labor, capital and corporations must change. All of the systems that were made to look and function like factories for the industrial age must now be reshaped to respond to the unique needs and demands of individuals. The entire thought process upon which we built regulation, legislation, political parties and political processes is no longer relevant.

However, transition solutions have yet to be visualized and articulated. The new paradigms for the third wave are up to those who have the courage to innovate, to lead and to implement.

There is an augmented risk to society that our political systems and our political leaders seem to be the most inflexible. Instead of acknowledging that present systems, like taxation for example, no longer seem to be working, our elected officials move to restrict the spontaneous urges of the people to fix things themselves. For example, they take steps to make petition and referendum more difficult. However, the trend cannot be thwarted. There will be more not less democracy in the future.

I am going to speculate on what I believe will be four major changes in the political process as we know it. They are Minority Power – Majority rule is obsolete. Various forms of public policy implementation such as proportional representation and systems of conflict resolution will replace it.

Semi-Direct Democracy – The form of democracy (representative democracy) invented by the Founding Fathers was appropriate for their time when 90% of the people were illiterate. And since direct democracy carries the weight of “tyranny of the majority” which is obsolete, a moderate and reasonable middle ground is semi-direct democracy. Although now under attack from the political establishment, the initiative and referendum process will eventually gain momentum. People will demand the right by petition to propose a bill, to modify a bill, to bind the vote of their legislator, to set up public hearings, to establish a legislative committee, or to make a formal expression of priorities to the legislature either for policy action or spending.

Decision Division – As the amount of information grows and as the pace of decision making necessarily accelerates, it becomes functionally impossible for decision making to be dominated by central control.

Political Information (PI) Systems – Officeholders voting records, ratings, etc. will soon be readily available to everyone on the Internet. Slanted coverage, spinning by political parties and management of the news will be overcome by the sheer volume of information available to everyone. Already independent candidates and splinter third parties are mounting attacks against rules and procedures that discriminate against their involvement in the process. Predictably, the powerful interests that are threatened by an expansion of democracy are digging in their heels.

Abraham Lincoln said, “We must disenthrall ourselves from the past. Otherwise it becomes a barrier to the future.”

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Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a think tank in Golden, Colorado.

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email) webmngr@i2i.org

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Copyright 2000 David B. Kopel

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