opening day

Lawmakers with family members gather in the state Senate chamber for the first day of the 2018 legislative session.

When the players take the field for the second half of this year’s General Assembly on May 26, consider it more of a seventh-inning stretch for state tax dollars.

Who knows if this is a good idea to bring 100 state leaders, Gov. Jared Polis and a passel of reporters back to the statehouse. The state constitution requires the legislature to pass a budget so the governor can sign it before the new fiscal year begins on July 1.

The other thing the law requires is that the budget is balanced, and lawmakers are making deep cuts. The pain train is pulling into the station.

They also must adopt a School Finance Act, when the state already doesn’t put enough money into K-12 education to meet the letter of the law.

Even in dire times like these, the legislature’s power is limited in how much they can do for or against teachers, classrooms and college students. Insights has told you before that the real decision-making on education happens at the local level, not the statehouse.

Lawmakers annually get an earful from the unions, alliances and activists who march on the Capitol. This year their marching shoes can stay at home.

Last year lawmakers passed a budget of more than $32 billion. Most of that spending, however, is beyond their say-so. This year they could have to cut up to $3 billion over the $12.4 billion they have influence over.

Put another way, the state has $4 in its pocket, but then it has to buy me a $1 banana, if coronavirus was a banana.

That’s a big banana.

If Colorado Reps. Ken Buck of Windsor and Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs were in charge, the federal government wouldn't dispatch relief to state and local governments, because they think the federal government is spending too much. Both Republicans support Trump's border wall, the one Mexico was supposed to pay for, at $20 million a mile.

State legislators are expected to table nearly all the bills that weren’t passed before the March 14 adjournment, one week past the halfway mark of the 120-day session. Insights called it when we told you to stick a fork in this session; it’s done.

The biggest fight of the session is already over. The public option was supposed to get government into the insurance business aided by price caps on doctors and hospitals. Sponsors pulled the bill on May 4.

Paid family leave, another big fight expected this spring, was lost to the pandemic, but it was on life support before. The outbreak just finished it off.

The ticket to a seat under the gold dome in Denver this year is a clear plan and few promises. Democrats should hold their majorities, if only because people are focused only on getting out of this mess.

Good rain makes great farmers, and flush tax revenue does the same for lawmakers. Let's see what Democrats can do.

There’s not enough fat in the state budget. They will have to cut muscle, too  wildfire mitigation, all-day kindergarten, safety nets for the needy, the financially wobbly State Fair and every other program that’s not critical to staying afloat.

Expect do-or-die arguments to save what we used to spend on certain pet projects, because I never met a lawmaker describe something they support as government pork.

On May 8, for instance, the Joint Budget Committee preserved $300,000 for the Colorado Proud marketing campaign to promote agriculture domestically and abroad, in part because of the damage to farmers and ranchers from President Trump’s tariffs.

We can still be thankful to be Coloradans. 

Balancing our state budget is constitutionally required, though it stirs up a world of debate about investing in education and transportation.

Nonetheless, in the economic good times that existed a few months ago, Polis was saying grace over a flush state budget to power his agenda on better education, clean energy and affordable health care.

You have that luxury with one of the strongest economies in the nation.

While past Colorado leaders  looking at you, John Hickenlooper  failed to put away money in a "rainy day" fund during the boom times, Polis talked about beefing up the state’s savings, “reserves,” as they’re called.

The federal government spends, spends, spends as if it’s a hole politicians can't stop digging. Polis saw that as a congressman.

Colorado requires lawmakers to live within their budget. That prevents critical long-term investments without hard-to-get taxpayer approval, and it would be nice to take out a line of credit right now to get us through.

Getting back on your feet is harder when you're strapped down by old debts. I have enough relatives with bad credit to tell you being over-leveraged is a bad idea. Colorado doesn’t do that.

When this is over, whether it’s months or years, Colorado will bounce back the fastest, just like it did in the last recession. That's partly because of our suffer-as-you-go mentality. We didn't have to gut our services to make the loan payments.

Sure, there’s pain and sacrifice reflected in the budget cuts lawmakers are facing, but there’s also a framework and a track record to have faith in.

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