home guest columnist archives about us contact us
Colorado Voters Disappointed With Growth Legislation Failure, Public Continues To Demand Action

Colorado voters are deeply disappointed that the legislature did not reach agreement in 2001 on growth management legislation. In a new Ciruli Associates poll, 68 percent of voters said they were disappointed “the legislature failed to reach agreement on growth legislation.”

Question: The state legislature debated how best to manage growth in the last legislative session. After they failed to reach agreement a special session of the legislature was called. Legislators still did not reach agreement. Let me ask you a couple of questions about growth legislation. Would you say you were disappointed, pleased or not concerned that the legislature failed to reach agreement on growth legislation?

The survey was conducted June 25-28, 2001, by Ciruli Associates, with 452 residents likely to vote in the 2002 general election. The growth-related questions were prepared for publication on Ciruli Associates’ web site and in the Variable newsletter. Questions concerning Gov. Bill Owens’ performance and the ballot initiatives were sponsored and published by The Denver Post. A question tracking the public’s top priority for state government action (since 1998) is jointly sponsored by 9 KUSA, KOA News Radio, and The Denver Post. This analysis is the sole responsibility of Ciruli Associates.

Call Special Session

When informed that a new special session could be called this fall to pass growth management legislation, 64 percent of voters agreed that legislators and the governor should make another effort.

Question: There has been discussion that there should be another effort to pass growth management legislation at a new special session of the legislature this fall. Do you agree or disagree that legislators and the governor should make another effort to approve growth management legislation in a special session this fall?

Two thirds of Colorado voters are unhappy with current legislative gridlock on growth management and are demanding more effort for a solution. The small number of voters who don’t have an opinion illustrates that the issue garners significant public attention. Only 25 to 30 percent of voters do not want legislative action on growth management.

Growth Concern Widespread

Disappointment about the failure to reach agreement on how to manage growth is not concentrated just among Denver metro voters (although at 74 percent, they expressed a high level of disappointment about the legislative failure in the last session).

The North Front Range (Larimer and Weld counties) and the South Front Range (El Paso, Teller and Pueblo counties) also expressed significant levels of disappointment, 67 percent and 61 percent, respectively. The Western Slope, with 64 percent disappointment, joined the Front Range in level of disappointment. The least-populated area, the Eastern Plains, expressed the lowest level of disappointment at 55 percent.

Question: See previous question on disappointment.

Disappointment by political affiliation registered above 60 percent for all of the three main political identifiers: Democrats (76%), independent voters (68%), and Republicans (61%).

Other groups that registered high levels of disappointment were self-described liberals (76%), new Colorado residents (5 years or less) (71%), and women (74%)

Growth Remains Top Issue

Since 1998, Coloradoans have remained focused on growth as the top issue the governor and legislature should deal with. A similar question was tested among Colorado voters during the 1998 gubernatorial and legislative election, during last year’s presidential and legislative election and shortly after this year’s legislative failure to reach agreement.

Even with the current slowing economy, growth, described variously by voters as too much crowding, sprawl, too many people and too much development, received the highest percentage of comments at 29 percent. Growth concerns received 34 percent last November and 31 percent in October 1998. It was the top issue in all three surveys.

Transportation ranks as the second-biggest concern over the last three years of surveys. Combined, the two growth-related issues are cited in open-ended questions as the top priority for action by 43 percent of voters. More funding for education and education reform have held the third and fourth position since the beginning of the Owens’ era.

Question, 1998: In November of this year Colorado will elect a new governor. What would you say is the most important problem for the next governor to deal with in Colorado?

Question, 2000: What in your opinion is the most important problem for the governor and legislators to deal with next year?

Question, 2001: Thinking about Colorado issues, what would you say is the top issue you would like the governor and legislators to deal with in Colorado?

Governor Popular But Growth Grade Low

Gov. Bill Owens’ approval rating and personal favorability were extremely high. Sixty-four percent approved his handling of the job and 65 percent said they had a very or somewhat favorable view of him.

Voters were asked to grade the governor from A to F on various aspects of his job performance. Although a majority of voters gave Owens passing grades, “C” or better, there was a clear grading pattern. He scored highest on “offering strong leadership” and “improving education” but lowest on “managing growth.”

Governor Bill Owens’ Job Performance Grades
Performance A & B C D & F
Offering strong leadership 50% 28% 16%
Improving education 40% 28% 22%
Improving transportation 38% 31% 23%
Cutting taxes 33% 36% 17%
Managing growth 28% 33% 32%
Ciruli Associates, N452, June 2001

Question: Next, let me ask you to rate Governor Bill Owens’ performance on the following issues as an A, B, C, D or F: cutting taxes, managing growth, improving transportation, improving education, offering strong leadership [responses rotated].

While Governor Owens was not blamed for the legislative gridlock over growth, as his overall job performance was unaffected, the grade for growth is a warning, not only for the governor but for the entire political establishment, that addressing the growth management issue is important and that there could be consequences for further failure to act on the public’s top concern.

Ballot Initiative or Legislation

One of the consequences of the failure of the legislature to pass growth legislation is the willingness of the public to use a citizen-initiated ballot measure to manage growth. More than half of Colorado voters (51%) said they believed the “best way to pass growth management rules” was through a new ballot initiative as opposed to through the legislature.

Question: Some people believe that the best approach to passing new growth management rules is through a citizen-initiated ballot measure. Others believe the legislature is the best place to pass new growth management rules. Given what you have seen or read, what do you believe is the best way to pass growth management rules—ballot initiative or the legislature?

It was Amendment 24, the growth ballot initiative of 2000, that focused the attention of state political leadership on the need to address growth issues. The ballot initiative began with high voter support but was defeated 30 percent to 70 percent in the November 2000 election after an expensive and negative campaign. It was initially seen as an antidote to the decade of rapid growth and attendant problems. But the initiative was largely devoid of support from business, local government, elected officials and the state’s editorial pages. It was seen as too rigid and inappropriate as a State Constitutional amendment, and too extreme because it required a public vote in all growth plans and changes. However, its initial popularity and the high amount of campaign funds required to defeat it convinced business and political leaders that the 2001 legislative session was the best opportunity to pass legislation and head off a 2002 ballot initiative.

Although support is modest for some type of initiative at this time, public opinion indicates that without action the legislature will lose control of the issue. Unfortunately for supporters of legislative action, interest groups indicated at the conclusion of the 2001 legislative session they were prepared to abandon legislation and go to the street with ballot initiatives.

Two Percent Solution

Although disappointed with the legislature and willing to entertain a ballot initiative, voters are not ready for a statewide cap on growth. When asked if they supported a 2 percent cap on new housing units in the state, the notion barely registered half of voter support (48%). There were nearly as many voters who strongly opposed it (23%) as strongly supported it (24%).

In fact, the proposal never received much over half of voter support even among likely sympathetic groups such as liberals (55%) and strong Democrats (47%). Not surprisingly, conservatives (40%) and strong Republicans (38%) were even less supportive.

Question: The following is an issue that could be on the November 2002 ballot. As I read the proposal please tell me as of today if you would definitely support the issue, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or definitely oppose the issue. If you don’t know just say so.

Limit the issuance of new housing permits in cities, towns and counties in Colorado to an annual increase of 2 percent of the number of housing units in the area.

Various growth caps have been considered by local counties, sometimes passing and sometimes losing. In recent years growth caps have been approved either by citizen initiatives or by city ordinance in Golden (1995), Lafayette (1995), Elizabeth (1996), and Berthoud (2000). They are typically 1 percent caps on residential building permit increases (5% in Berthoud).

While the voting public is highly dissatisfied with the failure to reach a statewide growth management agreement and a majority is prepared to entertain a ballot initiative, they do not support a state cap on growth as the solution to the problem at this time.

Conclusion About Growth Management

The survey findings provide evidence to support the following conclusions.

  • Despite a slowdown in the economy, the public remains concerned about growth and the transportation system as top issues for political leaders to deal with. Quality of life and protection of Colorado’s environment remain priority public values. They expect government action when they believe the state’s natural heritage is threatened by rapid residential and commercial development.

  • There was a high level of awareness of the inability of the legislature to agree on growth management, as well as significant and widespread disappointment about the failure. Substantial majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents expressed disappointment, along with voters in all of Colorados’ regions (less so on the Eastern Plains).

  • Voters do not appear to be micro-managing solutions. Rather, they believe political institutions and leaders have the responsibility to address the issues and reach agreement. The public supports the idea of a special session on growth and wants the governor and legislature to make another effort to reach agreement. Failure to address the issue and reach agreement will have negative consequences. The efficacy of the political process will suffer, which will harm both parties. But most importantly, the institution of representative government will continue to be depowered.

  • A narrow majority of the public now thinks a ballot initiative is a more effective method than the legislature to achieve growth management, which is an indication of a growing willingness to go around the legislature. The public, however, is not prepared to accept a 2 percent growth cap on housing permits, signifying that any ballot remedy would have to be carefully crafted. It would also likely be highly dependant on credible expert endorsement and/or opposition.

  • Growth was the dominant issue reported in the media during the last half of the legislative session. The issue also received significant editorial coverage. Political leaders can expect continued coverage due to the salience of the issue among the public, the multitude of political stakeholders and the variety of potential initiatives.

  • The political process will become more heated as the 2002 general election approaches. Deadlines for the initiative process will encourage activists to begin petitioning early in 2002. Time is short if the legislature and governor are to guide the process toward a consensus. If not, they risk spending the next year reacting to a dissatisfied electorate and one or more ballot initiatives.

  • Telephone survey conducted by Ciruli Associates from June 25 to June 28, 2001.

  • Telephone survey of 452 Colorado adult registered voters likely to vote in the November 2002 general election. Selected by random digit dialing with a random sample of statewide area telephone exchanges that gave all Colorado residents telephone numbers, listed and unlisted, an equal chance of being included. The most recent birthday method was used to randomly select members of the household to interview. Respondents were screened to identify likely registered voters.

  • Statistical range of accuracy in 19 out of 20 cases is ±4.6 percentage points for a sample size of 452. Sample tolerances for subgroups are larger. For example, the confidence interval for a subgroup of 250 respondents is ±6.2 percentage points.

  • Due to rounding, not all totals equal 100 percent. Survey results can be affected by other factors such as question wording and order.

  • For additional copies of this report contact Ciruli Associates.

[top] [archives] [home] [send this page to a friend]