What if you were the ruler of Colorado’s budget, all by yourself? How would you spend the roughly $28.5 billion budget the state might have (unless the economy keeps sputtering)?
You can. Check this out.
The Colorado Association of School Boards and Great Education Colorado have a crazy-simple online tool called Mission: Possible. You can get a clear snapshot of where the state budget is currently being spent, and see what happens to the big picture when you shift around the pieces.
We heard a lot this week about a budget being a moral document, a statement of values, so Mission: Possible tells you a bit about the hearts of minds of the Colorado legislature.
The two skinniest slices in this year’s budget on the big pie chart belong to transportation, $158 million, second only to $57.9 million for environment, natural resources and agriculture.
The tool let’s you monkey with the dynamics — what adding what you want does to the budget — then let’s you face the options of where to cut. The Colorado Constitution requires a balanced budget.
You can dig into weighty policy questions about how much and where you would like to invest tax dollars into areas such as schools, colleges and career training.
You can tackle health care and Medicaid, or play with pot taxes.
The tool has been around a few years, beginning as the Backseat Budgeter.
The Association of School Boards and Great Education Colorado took it over because, well, it’s educational, plus an informed citizen is an engaged citizen.
Moreover, school board members “acutely feel the state budget, the problems it forces down on school districts,” said CASB spokesman Joe Watt over breakfast with Susan Meek of the advocacy group Great Education Colorado.
They relaunched the Mission: Possible last fall and took it around to regional school meetings and let groups play around with it jointly on a big screen. Mission: Possible allows that.
“It really helps people understand the connection to the state budget, and why education funding is the way it is,” Meek said.
The everyday Coloradan has little understanding of why government money gets spent the way it does, why legislators talk about doing a better job of funding schools and roads but hardly ever do or there’s a tight cap on raising taxes.
“It’s not that they don’t understand,” Watt interjected over eggs and toast. “It’s hard to understand. The tool is a way to let people understand.
“Not everybody has to be a budget expert, but everybody can ask why we are where we are.”
The state budget for next year should be introduced in the General Assembly within the next week or so. Getting a handle on the Mission: Possible and last year’s budget could give you an edge on being the smartest state budget guy at your next cocktail party. But that’s still a sad cocktail party.