Madam Speaker, Madam Majority Leader, esteemed colleagues and honored guests: Welcome to the second regular session of the 71st General Assembly. I’d like to congratulate the newest members, Representatives Reyher and Roberts: Welcome to the pit…I mean chamber, to the chamber! DILLY DILLY. I believe I can speak for everyone in this room when I say that serving in the legislature is a truly unique experience; we look forward to working with you.
I would also like to take a moment to recognize the friends and family here whose support is so valuable to us all. As members, we are well aware of the personal sacrifice of time and energy this job requires, but our families also make sacrifices to support us and enable us to be successful. I want to personally thank my wife Kristi, and my daughters Mary Katelyn, Hannah and Lydia. Thank you for your support, I could not do this without you; I would not do this without you. Madam Speaker, Madam Majority Leader, if you think you I am difficult to deal with just remember my wife has had to put up with me since High School. Let’s give another round of applause to our family members here in attendance.
I want to take a moment to thank other members of executive committee for their work to revise the capitol’s sexual harassment policies. The state capitol has always been a distinguished place to work, and it should also be a welcoming and safe place for everyone. I perfectly understand and share a sense of outrage when we hear stories of bad behavior, but when accusations appear where the law is made, we must observe due process so that we fairly and objectively handle complaints and workplace issues. The new policies we have adopted and the additional HR resources we are providing will help ensure future issues are handled appropriately. My door is always open to anyone who might want to report an issue that makes working here problematic.
House Sessions during election years are always more politically charged than off-year sessions. It’s especially true this year given the high-profile statewide elections and the many candidates for those offices here today. I know several of you in this room are vying for positions that will influence the direction of our state as a whole. That said, and knowing how strongly I feel about serving Colorado, I think this is the best time to announce that … I too am throwing my name in for …… more road funding and government efficiency.
In all seriousness, the citizens of Colorado have elected us to solve various problems facing our state. And while we all know politics plays a role in the process, for the next 120 days our job is to focus on legislation to improve the lives of the citizens of our State. When we work together – as we did hundreds of times last year – we can meet that goal in spite of our political differences.
I read an interesting story the other day. The backdrop to the story involved the number of people coming to Colorado. Who can blame them?
But the story itself was about the large number of people leaving Colorado because Colorado is no longer affordable. Leaving because they see hours of their lives wasted in traffic. Leaving because the costs of home, auto and health insurance have soared. Leaving because all the beauty and adventure they came here to enjoy has been tainted by rising prices and stress. These issues are no different for those who’ve spent their whole lives here.
We want to make Colorado affordable. We want to make Colorado affordable and enjoyable again by the actions we take as legislators this session when it comes to: prioritizing funding for cleaner, safer roads and bridges; lowering the regulatory barriers that businesses, and especially new businesses encounter; enabling students and teachers to find success in education; legalizing affordable health insurance plans and providing consumer choice; we aim to do this while insuring our human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness continue to be recognized.
It costs a lot to live here, and costs have gone up. Having grown up on the Front Range, started a family and worked in a small business, I have witnessed with some dismay the rapid increase in the cost of living in Colorado. I am sure all of you can attest to this as well.
During the interim, Assistant Minority Leader Cole Wist and I, along with some other members, toured many parts of Colorado and took time to learn about some of the issues contributing to higher costs.
For example: we visited the Colorado National Speedway in Dacono and heard how new mandates and regulations are threatening the low-cost entertainment that thousands of families enjoy there; elsewhere we heard from small rural communities that are concerned about the lack of new housing and infrastructure; while visiting a visionary health care provider in Pueblo, we learned about a state computer program that is delaying critical Medicaid reimbursement payments to hospitals and providers; a recent study I saw found that a first-year teacher cannot afford to rent even a 1 bedroom apartment in four of the largest districts in our state.
The cost to buy or rent a home has increased by more than 100 percent over the last 10 years, the costs of auto, home and health insurance have increased exponentially, and the increasing cost of doing business is typically passed on to the consumer. The drip, drip, drip of paying for basic needs is draining people of the optimism and hope that should be natural for residents of this great state.
I raise these points because many of the laws we will debate this session could directly impact Colorado’s affordability. Government programs bring with them the baggage of unintended consequences.
Just as it’s possible for a person to bleed to death from a thousand small cuts, so it’s possible for a state to become unaffordable by a thousand small regulations.
At a time when our national economy is beginning to gain momentum and return to health, we must be very careful about adding new regulatory and legal burdens to our citizens; instead, we should work together to make our state affordable again. In this, we have a choice to make.
As Assistant Minority Leader Wist and I traveled this summer, we were regularly asked about the poor shape of our roads, the lack of lane miles, and the lack of funding for Colorado’s aging infrastructure. My response was as simple then as it is today: “we have enough money to fix our problems. We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.
A few weeks ago the revenue forecast indicated we will have almost a Billion dollars more revenue than expected for fiscal year 2018-19. There is no reason why nearly all of this new revenue should not go to widening highways, adding lane miles throughout the state and rebuilding traditional infrastructure.
We believe we can build newer, safer roads and bridges without raising taxes. If we can fix a problem that will make Colorado a more affordable and enjoyable place to live, why not do that? Why make Colorado even less affordable by imposing a new tax for ‘transportation’?
And while I’m on the topic of transportation, let me clarify something for those listening. In the past, when we used the word “transportation”, we understood, and most people understood, the word meant ‘roads and bridges’. Most Coloradans say better ‘roads’ should be a priority for the legislature, and when they hear us talking about ‘transportation’, they assume we’re talking about ‘roads’.
Unfortunately, that assumption is no longer true. As of last year, “transportation” doesn’t mean simply ‘roads and bridges’; instead, it now means “state tax dollars for buses, light rail, heavier rail, bike paths and special lanes for pogo sticks and the like.” The point is, I now use the phrase ‘roads and bridges’ because I want voters to know what I mean, and to understand where our priorities lie.
Members of our caucus will be carrying a bill that will fix our roads, without raising taxes. It will be a perfect opportunity to show our constituencies exactly where roads rank as a priority. I can tell you right now roads are my top priority. Is it yours?
I know some of you may doubt we can prioritize existing revenue for roads. Some may ask what we are willing to cut. But members, this is not Washington D.C., and decreasing the governor’s proposed increases is not a cut.
To everyone listening: we can fix our roads and fund essential state services with existing revenue. Members, the Governor’s budget proposal is $1.09 billion larger than last year, and $10 billion larger than 2009 when Governor Hickenlooper first took office. And we’ve just come into an additional $1 billion in revenue. My question to the members in this room who think we need more from the taxpayers is this: “how much is enough”?
Recent news reports suggest that my colleagues across the aisle are already looking at the “many unmet needs” in our state. As the saying goes, ‘when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail’ … and when you’re committed to a big and bigger government, every problem calls for more taxes, programs, and spending.
But if you think like me, we don’t need more revenue – we need more restraint; we need more common sense when it comes how we spend taxpayers’ money. In this, we certainly have a choice to make.
Concerning Education … Not only are we obliged by the state constitution to pass a balanced budget every year, we’re also required to provide money for a public education. And the fact is, we’ve provided a lot: over the past 12 years, total spending has gone from $3.8 billion a year to $5.6 billion a year, an increase of 45 percent; General fund spending on K-12 education has gone from $2.9 billion a year to $4.1 billion, an increase of 42 percent; even factoring in inflation, we’re spending 24 percent more money than we were a dozen years ago: and what are we getting for the money?
We’ve spent a great fortune on K-12 education, but we haven’t gotten a great result. The time has come for us to have an open mind to new approaches to education because it is obvious, that what we’ve been doing isn’t working.
Instead of spending that fortune to empower bureaucracies, why don’t we try to empower students and parents?
One of the biggest accomplishments from last session was establishing equity for funding charter schools. I want to thank all of the members who helped craft that law. We will work with Democrats on any bill that offers real hope for educational success.
Nobody wins when children lose. We can do better. In this, we have a choice to make.
In the land of the free and the home of the brave, there’s a deep well of compassion for those who may have fallen on hard times. At present, taxpayers in the state of Colorado along with other American taxpayers make a gift worth several thousand dollars a year available to these people in the form of Medicaid.
We don’t begrudge them for our help, yet while it is free or nearly free to recipients, it isn’t cheap: in fiscal year 2004-05 we spent $3 billion on healthcare; in fiscal year 2016-17 – just a dozen years later – we spent $9 billion – a 300 percent increase; General Fund spending on health care increased 111 percent in that period.
Today just over a quarter of the people living in our state are on Medicaid. Since 2008-09, that figure has risen 220 percent. But studies demonstrate that Medicaid is not a particularly efficient or effective way to distribute health care; to be sure, the most significant changes to the system must happen in Washington, but it is our goal, our ambition, to insure that those who need Medicaid get it, while we also insure that it is reserved for the truly needy.
Our hope is that as our economy grows, and good jobs become more plentiful, people will get health care at work or that we, as a legislature work to legalize affordable insurance plans that citizens freely select. Improving this system means progress in the quest to make Colorado more affordable.
In the wake of recent tragedies in our nation, some people have renewed their demands for stricter gun control. Members, gun control becomes the focus because guns are the tools evil people have used to commit the atrocities. But guns are simply that, a tool, and just as they can be used for evil, they are tools in the hands of good people to defend themselves. New laws will not prevent evil people from acquiring guns nor will they prevent further crimes against the innocent. Rather they will rob the innocent of the ability to defend themselves and their families.
This session, I urge you not to accept the misguided dogma that gun control laws will stop mass killings. For those who disagree, let me share an experience that demonstrated this dark reality. As a veteran who served in Iraq, I can tell you the frequency of mass killings during my time there was shocking. We fought an enemy that valued no life, and sought to harm and destroy by any means possible. Sadly, no amount of gun control would have saved lives, what evil lacked in guns it made up for in other forms of destruction. It was evil, finding any way available to hurt society. That evil exists everywhere, sadly even in our own communities. We need to ensure citizens have every means possible to fight back, and protect innocent life.
Members, our Constitutional rights are what define this nation and our state. We have the right to free speech, the right to freely exercise our religion, but above all we have the right to life. Without it, “liberty” and “the pursuit of happiness” are empty slogans. The American people are increasingly ‘pro-life’, in no small measure because of the science that enables us to watch the development of the unborn. I pray this enlightened attitude makes its way to the Capitol. This issue of life shouldn’t be political, but until it’s not, I’ll work to defend the right to life for the youngest, and the oldest, among us.
Another element in our drive to make Colorado more affordable is changes we’ll propose to the budget process we use here at the Capitol.
Our current process allows each chamber less than a week to complete the most constitutionally important task of the session. We are the only state that compiles a budget this way, and while it might have been the right approach at one time, we believe it is time to reevaluate the process.
Our friends on the other side will undoubtedly be happy to know that the changes we’re proposing are non-partisan in nature. We’ve already had several helpful conversations along those lines.
I won’t go into great detail here, but suffice to say the details rest on two basic and related principles. We believe that the 6 members of the Joint Budget Committee are in many ways model legislators. Representatives Rankin, Hamner and Young devote significant time to the job. All of us here recognize that for them, public service translates into personal sacrifice as they labor untold hours to help us all. But our overreliance on the few is robbing us of the wisdom of the many. We would like to see more people involved in the process.
We want to plan ahead and require forecasts from each department. No major expense or upgrade should be a surprise to us, we should know years in advance. I look forward to more conversations with all of you on this topic.
Members, this session we have a choice to make. Are we going to choose to let our state government continue to expand at the expense of industry, commerce, and liberty, or are we going to look for ways to help lower the cost of doing business in Colorado, let the free market inspire more innovation, and find ways to make Colorado affordable again? Do we move forward with policies and oversight that will make Colorado more affordable, or do we simply advocate for higher taxes and more spending? Will we plant fiscal bombs into our budget in the form of costly new programs that will burden us and our children for decades, and put us on the road to bankruptcy and chaos already forged by states like California and Illinois? We’ve tried the bigger government approach, and it doesn’t work. It creates more inequality, more dependence, and more social division. Will we choose to prioritize funding to make a significant step toward safer, cleaner roads and bridges, or will we ask for higher taxes or fees to fund mass transit that cannot pay for itself?
Members, we proved last session that we can put our differences aside, work together, and get things done for the people of our great state. Let’s build on that progress and make this another successful year for the people of Colorado.
Thank you and God bless.