It's an article of faith among Democrats that the state budget is a "moral document." They obviously still worship at the altar of big government if that's the case. The fiscal shenanigans at the root of the Colorado state budget should cause anyone who's paying attention to ask if the Democrats' morality is still inspired by Bill Clinton.
The latest estimate from the legislature's nonpartisan economists forecasts a decrease in expected revenues of $693 million over five years, echoing spreading worries of an economic slowdown. But this year's proposed budget calls for no slowdown in spending.
In the 2008-09 budget, general fund spending increases by the maximum allowable six percent or $431 million. A portion of this increase is made possible by last year's infamous property tax hike - Democrats call it a "freeze" - which bypassed the voters and, in just two years, shifts $249 million away from the priorities of local schools and into the hands of state legislators.
Originally, Democrats said this "Colorado Children's Amendment" would shore up education funding, although the amendment contains no assurance whatsoever that schools will receive any of the additional money.
More recently, a spending shell game reminiscent of the Ref C Shuffle emerged in the wake of the property tax hike. During a recent meeting of the legislature's Joint Budget Committee, Democrats acknowledged that part of Gov. Bill Ritter's $25 million expansion of government health care will be funded from - that's right - money freed up by the Children's Amendment.
So state lawmakers forced local school districts to give up money that was to be spent on local priorities and to spend it instead on state priorities, thereby enabling the state to spend its money not on education but to expand entitlements.
A significantly larger splurge takes place in the cash funds budget - paid for by those so-called "fees" that often feel like taxes to anyone who pays them. Although the cash funds budget is roughly one-third smaller than the general fund, Democrat legislators are proposing a staggering $651 million (14.9 percent) increase. By contrast, the state's population grew by just two percent last year; inflation rose by 2.2 percent.
The budget also adds 1,334 new state employees - an increase of 2,763 potential union workers in the first two years under Gov. Ritter and the Democrat-controlled legislature. That's more than double the increase in the final two years under Republican Gov. Bill Owens, even after Referendum C loosened many budgetary constraints.
If taxpayers are to take seriously this mantra that "the budget is a moral document," then perhaps taxpayers should demand that moralizing legislators answer some obvious questions:
* Isn't it reckless for the legislature to increase spending at a time when the economy is slowing and working families are tightening their belts?
* What is moral about putting the whims of labor union bosses ahead of the interests of taxpayers whose hard work pays the bill for state government?
* Isn't it disingenuous - to say the least - to defy the plain language of the state constitution by raising property taxes without a vote?
* What is moral about taking money away from people who earn it in order to provide for themselves and their families and instead giving it to government bureaucrats who perpetuate their own existence by making more people dependent on government?
* How is it moral for lawmakers to take money that belongs to someone else so they can pretend to be morally superior by giving other people's money to their favorite lobbyists, charities and constituents?
Certainly, government can be a force for morality, as it has been in securing our freedoms, restraining abusive officials and agencies, and assuring equality under the law.
On the other hand, moralizing with other people's money is a dangerous addiction which politicians would be wise to avoid.