Like it or not, one of the prime functions of government is to reallocate wealth. At its best, government creates efficiencies of scale. A prime example of that is the military, which assembles the financial contributions and the physical efforts of many into a cohesive force. The Pentagon is not perfectly efficient - no such system could be - but it produces results greater than the same number of individuals acting on their own could achieve.
That idea is equally true of schools, which, at their best, allow many students to benefit from the skills of those individuals who are gifted teachers and administrators, and also allow the parents of those students to contribute to society according to their own skills if they do not happen to be gifted educators themselves.
The list goes on: Water projects provide municipal and agricultural water to people who do not have rivers running across their own property. Hospital districts are created to ensure the availability of health care in places where a medical practice may not be as lucrative as it would be in a city. Cities and counties provide law enforcement. Governmental entities build and maintain streets, county roads, highways, bridges, airports - all projects that work better when coordinated for the benefit of all who might use them rather than for the profit of the few who can afford to own them.
All of that happens relatively painlessly when there is enough money to go around. Taxpayers see more benefit than cost, partly because they perceive benefits to the larger community of which they are a part, even if they do not personally use all the government services available to them. Now, though, there is not enough money to go around. Furthermore, good evidence exists to suggest there never was as much money as was being spent, which in turn suggests citizens of the United States are not likely to feel that affluent again for a very long time.
Meanwhile, the state budget needs to be balanced, and it is $600 million short. That is "only" about $120 each for every one of Colorado's approximately 5 million residents, but that is just this year's shortfall. The problem starts all over again for the next fiscal year, and it is guaranteed to be bigger. Until recently, $600 million seemed like a huge number; now it is easier - too easy, in fact - to shrug off that number by comparing it with a proposed $825 billion stimulus package, a federal debt with more zeros than anyone wants to count and an entire world economy in turmoil. What to do?
Shrinking government cannot be the whole answer, because some government services simply cannot be replaced by the private sector, and others, including the military, should not be. Keeping all local money local also is not a viable solution. That would only work until local projects required outside money. Cuts will need to be made, and they will be big cuts. State Rep. Ellen Roberts pointed out in her weekly column that citizens have a choice between participating in the decision-making or not complaining when it does not go their way. The choice is actually a little more complicated, because participation will not guarantee satisfaction. Again, there simply is not enough money to go around.
There also is a third option: trusting the legislators we have elected to weigh all the evidence and do their jobs, and then making the best of the results. Ultimately, that is what is going to happen, but that does not preclude citizen participation. Speak up now, and speak clearly. Tough times are only made tougher by the refusal of citizens to deal rationally with the circumstances in which a government of, by and for the people finds itself.