There are certain political messages that have stood the test of time where each of the major parties are concerned. Republicans call Democrats “tax & spend liberals,” and Democrats say that Republicans are in bed with large corporations and big business. Sometimes these messages work well in campaigns, but sometimes a party gets so used to saying it that they don’t stop to think about whether it is still actually true.

Under the Bush Administration, Republicans have spent money like they knew they’d never have to actually pay it back (which, in a sense, is true; GOP lawmakers will be long dead before we settle these debts). Even though the nation faced a surplus when Democrat Bill Clinton left office, the national debt is now astronomically large. You can’t accuse congressional Democrats of being big spenders anymore, because they weren’t steering the ship when it stole the ATM.

Here in Colorado, Republicans are still trying to label Democrats with the “tax & spend” moniker, and it looks equally stupid. Governor Bill Ritter proposed freezing property tax rates in order to fund public schools, and Republicans gleefully called the plan “a tax hike.” Nevermind that it isn’t actually a tax hike; Ritter wants to fund public schools because they’re almost out of money.

That’s why Republicans, if they’re smart, will come up with a new plan of attack here. That may be easier said than done, however. Take a look at this article in The Colorado Springs Gazette as another example:

The Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, which works toward financial polices that benefit especially low- and moderate-income populations, did not offer specific solutions on how to fix the problem. But the report, “Aiming for the Middle,” declared that it is time for public discussion about the state’s spending choices.

“Colorado is a wonderful and amazing place in so many ways, yet we continue to lag behind other states when it comes to investing in our future,” senior fiscal policy analyst Carol Hedges said in a statement.

The report found that, among the 50 states, Colorado ranks:

– 49th in covering the uninsured and low-income families under Medicaid
– 39th in state highway spending per capita
– 48th in per-capita spending on higher education
– 34th in per-capita investment in public elementary and secondary schools.

To bring it up to average levels, the state would have to increase spending annually by $1 billion on health care, $139 million on highways, $467 million on public colleges and universities and $672.5 million on elementary and secondary schools, the report states.

Several Republican officials called the report another “tax and spend” request and noted that House Minority Leader Mike May recently warned of groups manufacturing crises in a constituent newsletter.

“After hearing the initial reports from some of the ‘study groups’ this summer, I can’t help but be concerned that the answer at the end of the book with many of them will just be ‘more money,'” May wrote earlier this month.

It’s flat-out embarrassing that Colorado is so low in per-capita funding in so many important areas, but Republicans like May are giddy about it because they get to call Democrats “tax & spenders.” Suppose, for example, that I needed to buy a gallon of milk. If May saw me at the store, he’d roll his eyes that I was willing to spend money in order to buy a gallon of milk. But what am I supposed to do instead? Go home and hope the milk just shows up in my refrigerator? Go find a cow that I can milk? Milk isn’t free, and neither are good schools or Medicaid benefits.

Earlier this legislative session Republican Sen. Josh Penry proposed a bill to increase standards for math and science education (the bill failed). When it came time to discuss Ritter’s funding proposal, however, Penry was one of the strongest critics. Penry, like most other Republicans in the state, is perfectly willing to create more requirements and more work, but he wants to rely on magical money fairies in order to pay for it.

Nobody wants to pay higher taxes, but nobody wants crumbling roads and schools, either. When given the choice, voters have shown that they’ll gladly pay more in order to see better services (remember Referendum C?) You just can’t keep repeating the tired “tax & spend” criticism when Colorado is already one of the lowest-taxed states in the entire country. For people like May and Penry, what is the ultimate goal? No taxes? Then what?

In a nutshell, this is why Republicans have been overrun by Democrats in recent elections in Colorado. Republicans don’t want to govern. Raising taxes isn’t fun, but you can’t cut taxes forever. It’s easier for Republicans to trot out “tax & spend” slogans than to actually make the tough choices. Former Republican Gov. Bill Owens made those tough choices in supporting Referendum C because he knew the state had to have the money; conservative Republicans will never forgive Owens for taking that stand, but it was the right thing to do.

As anybody with a checking account knows, you can’t write checks forever without eventually making some deposits. Democrats understand that. The public understands that. Republicans understand that, too, but they think it is to their political advantage to pretend otherwise. Clearly, it isn’t.