We allow government to tax and spend, recognizing that forcibly taking the fruits of someone else’s labor would constitute theft if anyone else did it.

In turn, we expect our elected officials to remember that their responsibility is to represent taxpaying families and businesses — not to protect government at all costs.

Well, after three years of spending every available tax dollar, dismissing every opportunity to save for the next downturn, and surreptitiously raising taxes without voter approval, Colorado’s Democrat lawmakers are now planning to steal — a term I don’t use loosely — $500 million to balance this year’s state budget.

Targets of the heist are Colorado businesses that protect their employees against workplace injuries by purchasing coverage from Pinnacol Assurance, a state-sanctioned insurance company.

Although created in state law, Pinnacol operates as a mutual insurance company for which the state assumes no liability.  When Pinnacol suffers losses, Colorado employers pay higher premiums.  If Pinnacol builds a surplus, employers receive rebates.

After years of financial distress, Pinnacol turned a $200 million deficit into a surplus reserve of some $700 million — from which Democrat leaders, Governor Ritter and (it gives me no pleasure to note) two Republican legislators now intend to beg, borrow or outright steal.

Inconveniently, Colorado law explicitly explains that state government “has no claim to nor any interest in (Pinnacol’s) revenues, money, and assets and shall not borrow, appropriate, or direct payments . . . for any purpose.”

If the constitution doesn’t constrain these lawmakers, mere statutes won’t either.

So this is what it’s come to: lawmakers suggest that their only options are to steal money paid by Colorado employers to pay for workplace injuries or to cut $300 million from colleges and universities.

Perhaps if anytime in the past year those same lawmakers and Gov. Ritter had heeded warnings of a recession they wouldn’t be in such a fix.  Instead, they built a budget based on rosy economic projections, then ignored warnings from their own economists, then underestimated the magnitude of their earlier errors, and finally acted after their options were severely limited by their own intransigence.

Gov. Ritter conceded as much recently when he told listeners to KOA’s Mike Rosen Show:  “We already for next year’s budget have cut $1.2 billion and have $300 million more to find.”

Why is it necessary to cut so much from next year’s budget when revenues fell far more in the current year ($1.1 billion) than from this year to next ($100 million)?  Because statehouse leaders balanced this year’s budget mostly with smoke and mirrors.

When business leaders objected to the proposed Pinnacol heist, lawmakers whined.

Sen. Suzanne Williams (D-Aurora) wanted car dealer John Medved, testifying at a committee hearing, to tell her how to balance the budget without stealing from the injured workers fund.  Medved instead schooled Williams on budget balancing in the real world where theft is still illegal, explaining the tough choices he made to address a $500,000 a month shortfall.

Meanwhile, “enraged” college students rallied on the Capitol steps with clever signs — or so they thought – asking “WTF?  Where’s the funding?”  As though they and their professors have an inherent right to taxpayer subsidies.

So long as colleges and universities offer a plethora of trivial degrees in professional victimology, rather than focusing scarce resources on genuine disciplines like medicine, engineering and physics, such pleas of poverty can’t be taken seriously.

Unfortunately, Sen. Al White (R-Hayden) outrageously pandered to students, telling them Pinnacol has their funding.  The obvious lesson is that a business that responsibly saves for hard times will be plundered by those that do not.

Gov. Ritter could have exhibited leadership by squelching the idea immediately.  Instead, he needs the legislature’s help to cover his dismal fiscal record and, therefore, can’t afford confrontation.

“First, it’s a legal question.  Then it’s a question of whether it’s the right thing to do,” he explained to a KOA caller.

Ritter has it backwards, forgetting a lesson his mother surely taught him:  the first question is whether it’s right or wrong.  And stealing is wrong, even if a lawyer says it’s legal.