Friday, October 27, 2017

Too Many Coming To Colorado Are Ruining The State

Denver traffic
Traffic on I-25  near Denver not long ago. Projected revenue for more roads is less than half what's needed by 2040.

Scene in a typical neighborhood in Colorado Springs, ca. 2002.

Smog days becoming more and more common in Denver, rents and home prices now among the highest in the nation, ever increasing density of people - with clogged ERs, roads and schools and water resources tapped to the limit. Not to mention that, according to a recent Denver Post report, the Colorado Dept. Of Transportation (CDOT) has projected revenue needs of over $46 b through 2040, more than double the $21.1 b it expects to actually collect.

What gives? Too many people moving into the state. It's just become too damned popular, but one can understand why. In a way. Many come as retirees as an alternative to a hot, humid place like Florida. Many are mountain lovers and this state boasts the highest average altitude in the nation. Others arrive because of the state's legalization of pot - opting to live in a state where they won't be hounded for their pot habits.  Many other families are moving here  from anti-MJ "flyover" states because the state's  cannabis oil business (the oil cannabidiol-  known as "Charlotte's Web")  offers them hope for afflicted kids,  e.g.

Thus, parents move here seeking relief for kids suffering from Dravet syndrome - a rare form of epilepsy which completely disables a child's language and social skills.

Other new workers move here because of more jobs in tech, banking, and the MJ industry - speaking of which a lot of these newcomers just want the freedom to go into an MJ retail store and buy some weed without being hassled. Alternatively, they want the freedom to go to medical marijuana stores and have some option besides opioid pain killers.

Since 2007, 800,000 more people from outside have moved here They've encountered clogged highways, limited and expensive housing as well as soaring water rates. In respect of the first, far from expanding the existing highway system to accommodate more vehicles CDOT barely has enough revenue to maintain the roads it has, far less the 20,000 extra miles (needed to construct)  to accommodate 2.2 million people in another 20 years.  The I=25, the main highway from Denver to Colorado Springs,  already regularly hits massive traffic jams with just minor accident..  Add in a local festival for a side burg (like in Larkspur in June )  and traffic can be backed up indefinitely and the wait for it move can last minutes t hours on  75 mph stretch.

If traffic congestion is a huge gripe, housing costs easily rival them. Typical rents for small 2 bedroom apartments in Denver now approach $1,900 a month.  Meanwhile, Denver Post data (Business, Aug. 20, p. 4K) shows that about 6 in every 10 new homes started  in metro Denver carried a price tag between $400,000 and $600,000. A record low 28 percent were priced under $400,000.  And as the piece noted, "calling a $400,000 home attainable" is a stretch. 

According to the state demographer Elizabeth Garner, there are fewer new (rental) units than in the past despite the fact that housing construction hasn't picked up since the Great Recession.  According to Garner, quoted in the Denver Post:

"Even though people think we're doing a lot of building it's not as much as they think we are."

The lack of housing, creating a shortage of supply, has radically driven up costs even orcing many who've moved to Denver to look foor housing 67 miles away in Colorado Springs. So now our housing prices are shooting up too. (We regularly receive up to two notices a week from realtors begging to buy our place "on the spot, hard cash".  Of course, we just laugh and tear them up. Selling our place even for "hard cash"  would then put us behind the eight ball to get another place.)

For perspective, for much of the 1990s and early 2000s home building kept pace with growth.  In that span the state was building 40,000 to 60,000 housing units per year. But last year despite record demand, just 30,000 units were built.   On the more positive side, there are efforts in many municipalities to encourage higher density and afforidable housing.

Earlier this year state lawmakers approved a measure aimed at stimulating the state's languid condominium market. This entailed backing off on holding builders to account for condo building errors, i.e. faulty materials employed, and other problems.  The argument from the  construction lobby was that so long as stringent regs are in place,  builders won't take any risks, units won't get built.

Pressure on scarce water resources is another problem Let's fact it, the trouble with people flocking to the natural beauty of our state is that the more who move in, the harder it is to preserve nature - or provide the necessary water.   means the state will either have to develop expensive new water delivery systems - which will have to be paid for by higher utility bills - or find other means of enhancing efficient water use. A 344- page draft released in December, 2015,  lists potential delivery projects costing $18-20 billion. It also mentions the possibility of innovations such as "toilet to tap" systems whereby sewer water can be re-used, e.g.

This would conform with the Colorado Water Plan's  mandate that Colorado residents must "re -use all available waste water as a pre-condition before state officials accept new trans-mountain projects".

The major obstacles to this innovation according the draft, include:

- The huge costs of water cleaning using multiple filter cleaning systems

- The legal obligations in Colorado to deliver water downstream

- The disposal of the contaminants purged from waste water - mainly thousands of gallons a day of super -concentrated salty mixes that must then be injected into deep wells or buried. The mixture is so toxic it can destroy skin on contact.

 - Safety and monitoring: This entails installing water monitoring and testing systems sensitive enough to track a wide array of pathogens (including E. Coli. cryptosporidium etc), suspended particles and hard to remove specialty chemicals (i.e. tossed out contraceptives, diet pills, laxatives, anti-depressants.

We then come to air quality, and Denver is now seeing more and more smog days on account of a number of environmental factors, including traffic congestion and temperature inversions in the atmosphere.  Air quality has long been a concern, especially at high elevations, where a little pollution can go a long way.   Higher population bears directly - not only on water access but air quality. According to Tony Robinson, who chairs the political science department at the University of Colorado- Denver:

"The Rocky Mountain West was not meant to be a highly populated area. There simply is not enough water in the West to sustain the kind of growh rates going on."

And, of course, we oldsters are getting a lot of the blame for growth too. According to the same Post report,  quoting Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne:

"Even though people talk a lot about the influx of millennials, the population that is really growing and that we're really concerned about is the over-65 population."

The report goes on to state that between 2000 and 2025 the number of people retiring in the state is expected to increase by 74 percent.   This compares to a projected 27 percent increase in the work force over the same period.  Then warning:

"By 2030, the state's senior population is expected to increase by 508,000 or 68 percent over current levels."

This begs the question of why this is so bad.  After all, seniors eat less, and go out less - imposing less strain on public transport and highways. Also, they have no kids to clog up more schools.  BUT they still cough up property taxes to pay for the bond issues (like in the coming election here in the Springs for Disrrict 11 schools, Prop. 3E) that supports district school expansion and refurbishing.

Well, the problem as noted in the Post, appears to be that we "make less and have less to spend in retirement".  In other words, we don't go out and buy loads of useless crap to stuff into our closets, dens and garages.  (Or more prefab storage units)  We do use more health-medical services (as I have to treat my prostate cancer ) but that is to be expected.  As you get older shit happens. You deal with it.

What the state really needs to be doing is rethinking its tax policy especially getting rid of the absurd TABOR  ("Taxpayers' Bill of Rights") that passed in 1992.  TABOR inherently limits state spending (even during large population growth-influx) based on an insane formula   spending limits are fixed by the general condition that the rate of increase in state budget spending cannot exceed the rate of population growth (dp/dt) and the rate of inflation (di/dt) for any given year. Thus, in general:

dS/dt < dp/dt + di/dt

In addition, TABOR fixes a "baseline" for spending growth each succeeding year by tailoring it to the rate of growth in the prior year. Thus, say if the rate of growth dG/dt was -2% (as it was in 2001-2002) with the recession following 9-11, then the total rate of spending growth for the next fiscal year cannot exceed:

dG/dt + dp/dt + di/dt

Say the state spending budget was $800 million in a given year, and $700 million in the prior fiscal year. The real rate of increase in spending is therefore:

(100/ 700) x 100% = 14%

If the TABOR baseline for that particular fiscal (net) population growth (those entering the state  minus those exiting) is 3%. Then:

(dG/dt + dp/dt + di/dt) = [-2% + 3% + 3%] = 4%

This means that a difference of: 14% - 4% = 10% of the state budget spending increase must be returned as refund to the taxpayers. In other words, six-tenths or 60% of the 14% by which the state "over-spent" must be returned.

Given this deplorable parasite buried in state tax law it's no wonder it can't get ahead, whether on roads, home building or much else.

If you plan to come to Colorado to live, for any reason, be sure you're aware of our water limitations, many of which are directly linked to water-intensive fracking that places profits and business above human resources.  Also, I advise not coming unless and until TABOR is repealed, which I don't see happening anytime soon. The persistence of TABOR means critical resources will always fall short of what's needed to match the state's population growth. Visit yes, but don't come here to live.

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Publius said...

You’re against immigration now?

Maybe Colorado should build a wall.

Copernicus said...

Sorry to disabuse you, but I'm NOT against immigration at all Indeed, as I've written before, Mexican immigrant are particularly essential in many labor areas like agriculture. But I do believe that in certain states - like Colorado- with strained resources (such as water) - it is better to locate immigrants in states that don't have these, e.g. water, problems, like the rural south or places in the Midwest. It is a matter of balance, in other words and that most forcefully applies to any ore "Anglos" moving here - since THEY have been the largest component of new residents. Get it?