The Pulse: Citizens League Issues Scan

"The Pulse", the Citizens League issue scan looks at topics of interest to members of the Citizens League (

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?
Saturday, December 14, 2002
Transportation: Three Big Ideas to Get Americans Moving Again. Robert D. Atkinson of the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. has penned a "white paper" entitled: "Getting Unstuck: Three Big Ideas To Get Americans Moving Again". The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates it will take an additional $45 billion per year to cut congestion one percent per year. There appears to be little appetite at the federal level or in most states to raise the needed money. Atkinson argues that the defeatism that we cannot build or invest our way out of congestion is wrong. He makes the basic claim that our transportation infrastructure has not expanded enough to meet our growing driving population, and a major part of the solution to congestion will be to invest more to expand road capacity. Reducing congestion will also require fundamentally rethinking surface transportation policy to bring significantly more accountability and market forces to bear. Timing is good for new thinking as Congress prepares to reauthorize federal highway and transit legislation (Transportation Equity Act or TEA-21) in 2003. Atkinson's paper offers three big ideas for fixing our surface transportation system: invest in more mobility, pay for performance, and harness market forces to cut congestion and manage roads. Under investing in more mobility Atkinson recommends: immediately drawing down the highway trust fund, significantly increase federal funding on surface transportation, encouraging states to invest more by lowering the federal share of highway and transit programs from 80 percent to 70 percent and requiring state and regional Metropolitan Planning Organizations to develop contrasting "Transportation Improvement Plans," one that is "fiscally constrained" and the other based on need. Under pay for performance the proposals are to allocate federal highway funds to states partly on the basis of relative performance in three areas: reducing congestion, improving safety, and cutting vehicle emissions, consolidate DOT's 70-plus categorical grant programs into just three programs: transit, road and highway, and transportation enhancement and fund the development of a national highway "info-structure" network capable of collecting and sharing transportation system performance covering the national and state highway system. Under harnessing market forces Atkinson recommends: lowering the required state match on road projects involving pricing (e.g., high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, congestion pricing, toll truckways) by at least 10 percent, repealing the limitation on tolls for interstate highways as long as automated electronic toll collection systems and their revenues fund expansion, changing the tax code to allow private corporations to issue tax-exempt bonds for toll road projects, making receipt of federal highway funding contingent upon states developing a national toll transponder standard and providing free toll transponders to all drivers, creating a pilot program to provide states with incentives to adopt public-private models for transportation infrastructure, equalizing commuting tax benefits between all modes of transit and encouraging state and local governments to stop subsidizing sprawl. The full document may be found at: and the overview at:

Friday, December 13, 2002
Energy and Transportation: Two Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles on the Road. Chester Dawson wrote a piece: "Fuel cells: Japan's Carmakers are Flooring It" for the December 23, 2002 issue of Business Week. On December 2, 2002 in Tokyo Honda and Toyota rolled out two hydrogen fuel cell vehicles that are street ready. Fuel cell vehicles face the barriers of the high cost of platinum that is used as a catalyst in the fuel cells. Getting a head start on fuel cells may prove an advantage, as was the case in the hybrid gasoline vehicle area. Toyota introduced hybrid vehicles in 1997 and has sold 120,000 to date and expects to produce 300,000 by 2005. Ford will use a Toyota affiliate to make the only hybrid SUV to enter the market next year. Current fuel cell vehicles cost 1 million dollars to produce and it might take ten years to get the price down to $100,000. Source: Business Week, December 23, 2002, p. 50-52. (248)

Thursday, December 12, 2002
Environment. Report Says Rich Countries Waste Most Water. The United States was rated the world's most wasteful user of water by the first Water Poverty Index. "The U.S. is at a relatively low position because of wasteful or inefficient water use practices in domestic, industry and agriculture," said William Cosgrove of the World Water Council "This is illustrated by the fact that per capita water consumption is the highest in the world." Issues raised by the index are due to be discussed in March at the World Water Forum in Japan. The Water Poverty Index was developed at the Center for Ecology & Hydrology in Wallingford, England and it is part of the British government-funded Natural Environment Research Council. The WCCO online story may be found at: (247)

Wednesday, December 11, 2002
K-12 Education. The Rise of Virtual Charter Schools. Mary Lord wrote for the December 9, 2002 issue of Newsweek on a rising trend of virtual charter schools. A total of 50 virtual charter school with web-enabled courses opened last year serving thousands of households. That is an increase from 30 the year before. There are a variety of online tools used including "real time" chat as well as "work at your own pace" assignments. A number use a rigorous curriculum developed by former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett's K-12 Inc. ( In Minnesota students in Kindergarten though fifth grade are eligible to enroll, pending approval from the student's home district. The convergence of home schooling and online instruction might be a major trend to watch. (Source. U.S. News & World Report, December 9, 2002, pp 56-57). (246) (Note: Please note corrected source publication. Thank you)

Tuesday, December 10, 2002
K-12 Education. Evidence-Based School Practices Emerging. The Council for Excellence in Government recently held a major forum with U.S. Education Secretary Paige and other policy leaders. As the webpage indicated, the recent enactment of No Child Left Behind, and its central principle that federal funds should support educational activities backed by “scientifically-based research,” offers an opportunity to bring rapid, evidence-driven progress – for the first time – to U.S. elementary and secondary education. Education is a field in which a vast number of interventions, such as ability grouping and grade retention, have gone in or out of fashion over time with little regard to rigorous evidence. As a result, over the past 30 years the United States has made almost no progress in raising the achievement of elementary and secondary school students.

The forum discussed issues raised in a new Coalition report: Bringing Evidence-Driven Progress To Education: A Recommended Strategy for the U.S. Department of Education. The Coalition’s report calls for a major, Department-wide effort to: Fund studies that randomly assign students to treatment and control groups, in order to establish what works in educating American children; and provide strong incentives for the widespread use of educational practices proven effective in such randomized controlled trials.

The Coalition’s report calls for a major, U.S. Education Department-wide effort to: fund studies that randomly assign students to treatment and control groups, in order to establish what works in educating American children; and provide strong incentives for the widespread use of educational practices proven effective in such randomized controlled trials. The report, including its specific policy recommendations, was released at the forum and discussed by leading policymakers, scholars, and advocacy groups representing diverse policy areas and viewpoints. What follows is a summary of the report’s rationale for evidence-based education policy, offered as a starting point for discussion.Randomized controlled trials have identified a few educational interventions that are highly effective. Although rare, their very existence suggests that a concerted Department effort to build the knowledge base of these proven interventions, and spur their widespread use, could fundamentally improve the effectiveness of American education. Illustrative examples include:
One-on-one tutoring by qualified tutors for at-risk readers in early elementary school (the 50th percentile student in the tutored group scores higher than 70-84% of the controls). Instruction for early readers in phonemic awareness and phonics, and guided oral reading with feedback (the 50th percentile student in each intervention scores higher than 65-70% of controls). High-quality preschool for low-income children (researcher-designed and implemented preschool increases percentage with high school diploma by 31% compared to controls, reduces percentage on welfare by 26% and percentage of hard-core criminals by 80%; further research is needed on how to translate these findings into broadly replicable programs). Life-Skills Training for junior high students (low-cost, replicable program reduces serious levels of substance abuse by over 40% by end of high school, compared to controls).

Since education consumes more than 40% of the Minnesota state budget, this development should be watched with interest. The web address for the evidence-based educational practices forum is at: (245)

Monday, December 09, 2002
Metropolitan Regional Development. Livable Communities Act in Minnesota Seven Years Old. Larry Werner wrote a story for the December 8, 2002 issue of the Star Tribune on a new kind of downtown for the city of St. Louis Park, Minnesota. The mixed-income, mixed-use, transit related development is breathing new life into a stretch of the heart of the city. The story cites 6 other large Livable Communities Act projects around the metropolitan Twin Cities area. The 1995 law came out of a bi-partisan working group with input from the Citizens League report: "It Takes a Region for Livable Neighborhoods." The full story may be found at: More detail on the track record of the Livable Community Act may be found at: (244)

Public Services Privatization. Fulton County Taxpayers Association in greater Atlanta is pushing for a vote to sell the international airport and use the expected 3 billion dollars to fix the leaky sewer system. Whether the issue does go to the voters, it does highlight the issue of use of public assets and how they might best be deployed. The full story may be found at: (243).

Sunday, December 08, 2002
Healthcare: Hospital Ratings Now Online. Judy Foreman wrote a piece for the December 8, 2002 Star Tribune entitled: "Health Sense: Hospital ratings are getting easier to find." The article listed four websites to examine in looking for rankings of hospital quality from a consumer point of view. The Leapfrog Group ( is from an organization in Washington, D.C., involving a coalition of 124 major employers who provide benefits for 33 million people. America's Best Hospitals is a site offered by U.S. News & World Report ( This is a 13-year-old annual effort. Health Care Choices ( is in New York and run by Susan Rosenfeld, a health care attorney, tracks the volume of specific types of surgery (mastectomies, cardiac procedures, colon cancer surgery, etc). The Consumers' Checkbook ( is offered by a Washington, D.C. It recently teamed up with the AARP to put out a special issue in May-June of AARP's magazine, Modern Maturity, on the nation's top 50 hospitals. The article from which these items were drawn may be found at: (242)