Backpackers have a saying: Leave it better than you found it.
For generations, Coloradans have done exactly that. Ranchers and farmers, rural residents and city dwellers, businesses large and small, they all dreamed big and invested in themselves and their children's future - in our future.
They built schools, they built colleges, they built hospitals, they built roads through the mountains, they built dams, they irrigated fields, they built parks, they built cities.
They built a great state.
Now it is our turn. The Colorado we enjoy today didn't happen by accident. And it won't stay a great place to live by accident, either.
So how are we doing? How is Colorado holding up? Are we making the right investments for future Coloradans? What will our legacy be?
This is not ivory tower, egghead stuff. It's practical and it's real, and every Coloradan needs to weigh in.
Why? Because the TABOR amendment to our Constitution makes Colorado the only state in the nation where the voters must decide these questions. Not the legislature, not lawmakers. That means Colorado voters have more responsibility than voters in any other state.
So we can't just fight over whom to elect to represent us. We also have to come together in a serious conversation about the kind of state we want Colorado to be and how we get there. The Bell Policy Center, ProgressNow Colorado and Colorado Public Television-Channel 12 have teamed up on an hour-long television show, Colorado, Boom or Bust, and the goal is to get that conversation started. (The show will be on Channel 12 at 8 p.m. Wednesday and 5 p.m. Saturday.)
The show provides some history about the state we built and some of the financial challenges we face. But most of the show has people -- a firefighter from Denver, a Littleton mom with disabled children, a school board president from Longmont, a nurse from the San Luis Valley, among them -- talking about their state and their hopes and dreams for the future.
So, really, the show is a kitchen table discussion about the Colorado family budget. And there are some tough realities to talk about. Over the last decade, our money coming in isn't covering what it used to. Gas taxes don't cover road construction and repair anymore. Less local K-12 education funds means that state has to pick up more of the tab, putting a tight squeeze on community colleges, technical schools and universities.
Those are just a few examples. Add everything together, and we have what economists call a structural problem: Even after the economy improves, Colorado's revenues will not keep up.
So far, our solution has been to make deeper and deeper cuts to our budget -- that is, to our schools, our colleges, our roads and our safety net programs. The Great Recession has made that even tougher.
But we can't just cut our way out of this. That's why we need to talk -- about our priorities, to learn about other options.
That's where the TV show comes in. We invite you to watch the show and learn from a broad array of Coloradans about the state they love and the challenges we face. And then let's start talking about how we will leave Colorado better than we found it.
And above all, let's all remember that the folks who came before us faced challenges, too. Wars. Recessions. The Dust Bowl. But they figured out a way forward, and we will, too.
Buchanan is president of the Bell Policy Center, a non-partisan policy research organization that advocates public policies that reflect progressive values.