For those who think regular news about the state’s budget woes is nothing but esoteric rhetoric, the recent snow storm should give you a taste of what’s to come if Colorado lawmakers don’t do something soon.
Anyone out on the metro area roads the last few days couldn’t help but notice that even major interstates didn’t get the usual snow removal treatments, leaving snow-packed and icy roads and bridges for nature and traffic to finally clear. Much of that has to do with the state using fewer resources to clear roads in hopes of saving money.
Welcome to a leaner, meaner Colorado state budget. While state transportation officials will argue that public safety isn’t at risk, we’d argue that cutting state spending just about anywhere except the Colorado roads budget should be everyone’s goal. These are, however, tough times that are about to get tougher.
Despite repeated cuts during the past few years, Colorado must find ways to lop about $1 billion off its $8-billion annual budget. An Associated Press story points to a place the state can cut and still preserve important services such as road maintenance.
For the first time in almost 20 years, the state’s prison inmate population has finally quit growing, even as the state’s total population moves ahead. Since 1993 under a shortsighted and misguided conservative state government, Colorado’s prison population mushroomed from 9,300 inmates to a whopping 23,000 inmates in 2009. At a staggering cost of almost $30,000 to house each inmate every year, it’s no wonder that so much of the state’s resources are needed to feed one of the state’s fastest growing industries and leave less and less for things such as roads, education and health care.
The problem is that the state has been incarcerating drug addicts, alcoholics, the mentally ill and petty criminals and turning them into lifelong residents of the state’s prison systems at exorbitant taxpayer expense. Almost half of these men and women are imprisoned because of drug habits, alcoholism, conspiracy or other nonviolent offenses. We’re not suggesting that people don’t need to be policed and punished for violating laws, but study after study shows that by treating or preventing people from becoming mentally ill, drug addicts or alcoholics, taxpayers save big by having those future cell mates be productive, taxpaying citizens.