Archive for the 'Transportation' Category

Take It From Us Atlanta, Don’t Do It

Posted by on Jul 25 2011 | PPC, Taxes, Transportation

If you’ve lived in the Denver metro area in the last decade, you’re likely to be familiar with the light rail fiasco called FasTracks. You’re probably aware that voters approved the project in 2004 and with it, many claims about hundreds of miles of rail in and around Denver. For just a few pennies on a $10 transaction, we were promised less traffic, better connectivity, easier living, convenience, and of course, a cleaner environment. You’re also aware that from the very beginning, the Independence Institute warned that this ambitious project was doomed. Our transportation expert Randal O’Toole predicted that FasTracks would be under funded and over budget. He was right. He also proved that empty rail cars would pollute a heck of a lot more than cars do. He was right. We also predicted that RTD would have to come back to voters for another tax increase to continue the failed rail experiment. We were right. They continue to mull tax increases each year.

Now it seems like Denver’s “success” in passing a tax increase to fund a failed public transportation project caught the eye of the central planners in Atlanta. Because of their heavy congestion, they are studying the fine art of selling a transportation tax increase according to this article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. They are looking to Denver for inspiration for their own tax increases and silly transportation projects. For some bizarre reason, the article heaps praise on our FasTracks project as if it were a success. Oh, I get it. That’s step number 1 in selling a tax increase to voters: pretend the massive transportation failures in other states were actually successes. By the time you reach the bottom of the article, I’m quoted – a lone voice in a wilderness of doomed central planning.

If I had to do it over again, I would have said, “Please study our tax increase in 2004 and our failed FasTracks experiment. Please! So that you don’t repeat the same mistake!”

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The Bridge to Higher Taxes, More Debt

Posted by on May 24 2011 | Economics, Economy, Government Largess, Idiot Box (TV Show), PPC, TABOR, Taxes, Transportation

Since the moment it was passed, politicians have been trying to circumvent TABOR and its restrictions on taxes and debt. Sometimes their attempts fail, but sometimes they are wildly successful. Take for example the 2009 FASTER legislation. This bill created the Colorado Bridge Enterprise – a government owned business tasked with fixing and maintaining bridges within the state. If that sounds eerily familiar to what CDOT is supposed to do, it should. FASTER was a quick way to bypass the restrictions that CDOT would face in raising money to repair bridges. In other words, FASTER was a quick way to grab taxpayer money without asking us first.

How did FASTER manage to do that? Easy. It established a new tax, I mean “fee” in the form of higher vehicle registration costs for every single car registered in the state. It amounted to about $23 per car, per year totaling almost $100 million. The evidence that this “fee” increase is actually a tax is quite overwhelming. Which means that this tax increase is flagrantly unconstitutional. In just a couple of pages, Tom Ryan makes the case in this Independence Institute Issue Backgrounder, Colorado Bridge Enterprise: A Case Study in Contravening Colorado’s Constitution.

In addition to looting taxpayers to the tune of almost $100 million in new car registration “fees,” FASTER raised $300 million in debt – also without asking. It’s the old double end-around TABOR: raising unconstitutional taxes AND debt! As Richard Sokol tells it in this Issue Backgrounder, on December 1, 2010, the citizens of Colorado were put on the hook for $300 million dollars… and counting. FASTER was an attempt to repair and maintain Colorado bridges. The car registration tax increase was going to collect around $100 million. Evidently, $100 million was not enough. Richard Sokol explains,

…with a payment of $1.9 million to Wall Street-based bond dealers, the Colorado Bridge Enterprise issued $300 million of debt. Of this amount, $43 million matures in 2027, and $257 million matures in 2040. The interest rate on the debt is about 6.1 percent. The Enterprise will pay about two-thirds (4.0 percent) of the interest rate, and the federal government, through the taxpayer-funded Build America Bond subsidy, pays the rest. So, without a vote of the people, a CDOT Enterprise has issued $300 million in debt that will not be paid off for nearly 30 years.

Pretty slick huh? Loot current taxpayers to the tune of $100 million now and loot future taxpayers for at least $300 million later.

This deceptive story was too juicy to leave for just two Issue Backgrounders, so we had both Tom Ryan and Richard Sokol on my TV show Devils Advocate last week to share the awful details of this scam.

Let’s not forget that what FASTER did to taxpayers was soooo 2009. The hot new trend is to repeal TABOR through the courts. Why attempt to circumvent TABOR with accounting gimmicks and legal fictions when you can just rip it straight out of our state constitution? (Along with every other citizens initiative that was approved since the dawn of time). It’s a bit ironic that some of the same folks who love direct democracy when it comes to political elections, somehow disdain “direct democracy” when it comes to a citizen petitioning their government. David Harsanyi points out in The Blaze that proponents of repealing our electoral college because it’s just too damn representative, also favor getting rid of our initiative process because it’s just too damn… democratic? Huh? Rep. Andy Kerr might want to explain that one to us because I still don’t get it.

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The FASTER Way to Ignore TABOR Video

Posted by on May 21 2011 | Idiot Box (TV Show), PPC, Transportation

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C Where They Spend Your Money

Posted by on May 20 2011 | PPC, Transparency, Transportation

This past legislative session was pretty ugly for citizens. And especially ugly for energy ratepayers. But one of the few silver linings to emerge was a bill that could serve as a beacon of transparency for years to come. The bill is HB 1002 sponsored by Rep. BJ Nikkel and Sen. Mike Kopp. Rep. Nikkel worked with CDOT to “develop and maintain a publicly accessible, searchable, online database of its revenue and expenditure data.” Translation: taxpayers can see how CDOT is spending their money. Transparency must be in vogue again because the bill passed unanimously! Transparency Czarina Amy Oliver caught a sneak preview of the website and said that this new CDOT transparency website is what our state transparency website (TOPS) was supposed to look like – but TOPS failed miserably. Hopefully the success of the CDOT website will encourage reforms in the awful state transparency website and encourage other departments to take on the honorable task of showing us citizens where they spend OUR money.

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The FASTER Way to Ignore TABOR

Posted by on May 19 2011 | Idiot Box (TV Show), PPC, Transportation

Tune in to Devil’s Advocate this Friday night as I am joined by Rich Sokol of Legacy Capital Group and Tom Ryan of Analyst Strategy Group for an examination of how the 2009 FASTER legislation has allowed Colorado to issue $300 million of new debt without bothering to ask permission from Colorado voters as required by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). That’s Friday, May 27 at 8:30 PM on Colorado Public Television 12. Re-broadcast the following Monday at 1:30 PM.

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Weekend Wrap: Independence Institute Writers In The News

Posted by on Mar 07 2011 | education, guns, Kopelization, Labor, PPC, Second Amendment, Transportation

What do public-sector unions, highway traffic jams and gun rights all have in common? These are all recent topics of Independence Institute writers in the news.

First, in Friday’s Denver Daily News, Independence Institute education policy analyst Ben DeGrow points out, among other things, that while private-sector unions organize against management, public-sector unions actually organize against their fellow citizens. Something that even as pro-labor a president as FDR warned against.

Then in the Sunday Denver Post, transportation research associate John Aldridge makes the case for the use of “hard shoulders” to address congestion problems on both C-470 and the I-70 Mountain Corridor.

Finally, get a double-dose of Independence Institute research director Dave Kopel in the March edition of America’s 1st Freedom magazine. First, Dave explains the “Dark secret of Jim Crow and the racist roots of gun control,” then Dave points out Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s recent misrepresentation of James Madison as part of Breyer’s anti-gun zealotry.

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I-70 Mountain Corridor Train A $20 Billion Bad Idea

Posted by on Nov 01 2010 | PPC, Transportation

Over a the Denver Post, traffic operations engineer and Independence Institute research associate John Aldridge examines the proposed plan to build an elevated train along Colorado’s I-70 mountain corridor.

Unsurprisingly, he finds a few flaws in the idea:

First, it’s going to take 20 years or more to implement, and second, it will do nothing meaningful to relieve the worst area of congestion from east of Idaho Springs to west of Georgetown.
The plan proposes construction of a passenger train from Golden to the Eagle County Airport, about 118 miles. The plan envisions an electrically powered system running on an elevated track adjacent to the highway. The estimated cost is an astonishing $20 billion, or about 20 times CDOT’s annual budget to manage and maintain the entire state highway system. CDOT freely admits it does not have any money for the project.

Read the whole thing here.

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Star Trek or Amtrak?

Posted by on Apr 14 2010 | Transportation

If you were able to attend Randal O’Toole’s incredible transportation event a couple months ago, or you watched the event in this 5 part YouTube playlist, you might be interested in this follow up article written by Randal for the Wall Street Journal titled, “Taking the Driver Out of the Car.”

You’ll remember from Randal’s presentation that one of the free market solutions to gridlock, pollution, and our current array of dismal highways and roads requires a bit of a futuristic perspective. In other words, a little more Star Trek and a little less Am Trek, er, Amtrak. Never mind, you get it.

Anyway, as futuristic as driverless cars sound, the future is here! As Randal points out,

Consumers today can buy cars that steer themselves; accelerate and brake to maintain a safe driving distance from cars ahead; and detect and avoid collisions with other cars on all sides. Making them completely driverless will involve little more than a software upgrade.

“Robocars” as some call them have been in the making for years now and we are inching closer than ever before to having them as a legitimate option – if our elected officials deem it legal. And that is quite a big if. Futuristic geeks like Randal find themselves in the classic chicken-egg conundrum: these cars have little chance of gaining momentum with the public until we have the infrastructure built to use them properly. And we won’t have the proper infrastructure to use them until there is adequate public demand – and the legal okay.

It’s a coordination problem where someone on either side must first take a big risk in hopes that things catch on. Fortunately, public demonstrations like driverless car challenges, encourage the emerging field to reach greater innovation heights, while showing the public that these crazy things are out there – and they work!

The technology for driverless cars will be here sooner than later. Unfortunately, we just don’t know yet whether the law, infrastructure, and public support will. Lawmakers have the power to push us closer to Star Trek, but currently, all we’re getting is more and more Amtrak.

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Unintentional Comedy at 70 mph

Posted by on Mar 31 2010 | Economics, Idiot Box (TV Show), Transportation

As Yogi Berra once said, “it’s deja vu all over again.”  Remember those FasTracks lies we’ve been told for 30 years?  Well, a new report from the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority makes RTD’s distortions look like child’s play.  The report claims that “high speed” rail lines between Fort Collins and Pueblo, and Denver International Airport and Eagle County – I-25 and I-70 respectively – would cost over $21 billion AND not need a dime of tax payer money.  I’ll let you finish laughing before I go on….

Further, the study claims, “for every dollar of capital and operating costs, the project creates economic benefits greater than one dollar.”  If true, that begs the question: why on earth would we need government to do it if the project is both economically feasible and profitable? The fact that entrepreneurs are not jumping all over this alleged gold mine is proof enough it’s a money loser.  Obviously I don’t even need to rely on any sort of theoretical argument here.  Look at the history!  Look at the empirical evidence right in front of our eyes!  We’ve got a FasTracks project underfunded, over-budget, and largely unbuilt that is already over 30 years in the making.

For your viewing pleasure, an additional assortment of unbelievable claims and interesting tidbits:

  • We’re supposed to believe that this passenger rail system can be maintained without taxpayer money, while AmTrak is subsidized by taxpayers to the tune of $50 per ticket.
  • The study was funded by a firm that designs rail projects and manages construction projects.
  • That people would be willing to pay $80 round trip to Vail just to go as fast as they would in their cars.
  • That $40 ticket each way is the low cost estimate. As in, “could be as low as $40 per ticket.” Wow.
  • It projects ridership upwards of 35 million passengers a year. The Boston to Washington DC corridor carries around 10 million per year.
  • About that last figure, the 35 million one, Amtrak carries around 10 million per year as well.  That math just don’t add up.
  • These great facts and figures were brought to my attention through this fantastic Denver Post editorial and Denver Daily News piece. The DDN article features our very own Senior Fellow in Transportation Randal O’Toole. Randal has been a waging a war on the bogus claims made by RTD over the years and pulled no punches on this outrageous report saying, “They’re using the most optimistic assumptions imaginable and then relying on compounded optimistic assumptions.” Yeah, kind of like compounded interest. Except with compounded optimism you don’t make money, you lose a ton and go deep into debt.

    If the project gets off the ground and begins indebting our state and delivering nothing like all other ambitious transportation projects, the Independence Institute will be there once again to say, “I told you so.”  Randal will have the opportunity to say, “You should have listened to me.”  Again.

    If you haven’t had the chance to hear Randal, take a few minutes and listen.  His recent appearance on my TV show Independent Thinking was an opportunity to say “I told you so” with Denver Post columnist Chuck Plunkett.  Randal also presented to an audience for an event here at the Institute a little while ago titled, “Mobility vs. Gridlock: Colorado’s Transportation Future.” You can view that event via “YouTube playlist here.

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    We Told You So – Transportation Edition VIDEO!

    Posted by on Mar 12 2010 | Idiot Box (TV Show), Media, Transportation

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