Transcript: Senate President Kevin Grantham’s 2018 Legislative Session Opening Day Speech

The following are the prepared remarks of Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham on the opening day of the second regular session of the 71st Colorado General Assembly.

Colleagues, Family, Honored guests,

Today is a day full of pageantry, ceremony, pomp, and circumstance. Today is a day where we accomplish some of the necessary procedures to get our business underway. But most importantly, today is the day where we chart the course for Colorado in this 2nd Regular Session of the 71st General Assembly.

But before we continue charting that course let’s remember those who have graced us with their presence and blessed us with their talent to make this such a memorable day. Thank you to the Colorado National Guard Honor Guard, my pastor, David Almanzar, Deputy Victor Holbert, and The Saunders Family for that wonderful performance of our National Anthem. Will you join me in honoring each of them. Thank you all for being here today.

Today each of us also recognizes those near to us who make it possible for us to be here and to serve the people of Colorado. For my part, I would first like to recognize and thank the one who has let me share my life with her for 22 years come this Saturday, and going on 8 years while I have been here in the Senate…and never once changed the locks…yet…my wife, Caroline.

Welcome also to some of our returning friends and colleagues who are sharing this day with us. President Bill Cadman, Majority Leader Mark Scheffel, Majority Leader Rollie Heath, and Sen. Gail Schwartz. Welcome! And thank you for your service to this institution and to this great State.

And to each of you who, like me, are experiencing your final opening day in this chamber. We can save all of the gushy comments for Sine Die, but Sen. Guzman and Sen. Aguilar, it is an honor to have begun my service with each of you and to finish with this year with you both! For the others, Sen. Jahn, Sen. Kerr, Sen. Lundberg, and Sen. Lambert, although you each had to endure serving time in that “other” chamber, I am glad you graduated to the upper chamber and I am eternally grateful that I had the opportunity to serve with each of you.

Let us also recognize those with us today and those who could not attend today who make it possible through their sacrifices for us to serve this state, our spouses, family, and significant others! Thank you!

And finally, would you also join me in recognizing our first responders, those who put themselves in harm’s way for us, those who have given their lives in service, their families who grieve, and especially Deputy Zack Parrish and his family. Would you all join me and rise for a moment of silence as the Senate chimes ring in honor of his service, his life, and his memory.

Thank you all, and God Bless Deputy Parrish’s wife, Gracie, and their two beautiful daughters.

Fellow Senators,

Most citizens of our nation view a darkened horizon ahead. Where divisiveness and partisanship have become the norm, and even your political party can be a label of shame, many find difficulty in seeing a brighter tomorrow for America and for Colorado.

The heart of our nation, civil discourse, is under continual attack. The feelings of community and neighborliness that once was the backbone of our communities is quickly becoming a distant memory, and our willingness to engage one another has diminished.

Today is a moment of deciding for our State. Shall we fall to the partisanship and constant suspension that is Washington D.C. politics, or shall we rise above and prove to the people of this great State that we are working for them, and not for our parties or our own egos?

Today, we decide what sort of legislative body we will be. Colorado has always been different. It’s always been a special place, tucked behind the Rockies, untouched by the California smog or the New York corruption. Let’s continue that tradition of being different. Let’s work together to solve the issues that matter most to Coloradans, and let’s cement a legacy together that will carry into future General Assemblies for generations to come.

Let us be the sun splitting that darkened horizon. Let us lead the way for better days to come. We are not bound to follow the path of Washington D.C., nor are we obligated to do so. We can work together to create a flourishing and prosperous Colorado that we can all be proud of.

In 2016 and 2017, despite having a split General Assembly, the majority of the bills that made it to the floor passed both houses, and with bipartisan support. When everyone said we couldn’t accomplish construction defects reform -- we did it! When no one believed that we could pass a bill equalizing charter school funding -- we did it! We’ve done the tough work before - let us recommit ourselves to doing it again. Let us not fall to the temptation of blaming the other side for incomplete work. Our constituents are like our teachers, and as students, excuses can only go so far.

In speaking with many of you and listening to concerned constituents, there are six issues that stand out to me as being a top priority for 2018. Many of these issues aren’t black and white. There isn’t a Republican or Democrat way to fill a pothole, but I’d argue there is a Colorado way, and that’s if we do it together.

Today, let us commit ourselves to maintaining and building the roads of Colorado. These roads, albeit not flashy, and often taken for granted, are Colorado’s veins, allowing the lifeblood of our State, our people, and the economy they support, to travel efficiently and affordably.

Between 1991 and 2015, the number of drivers on our roads increased from 3.3 million to 5.4 million, and projections estimate 7.8 million by 2040. Unfortunately, our investment in this vital infrastructure has fallen from $125.70 per person to just $68.94 per person.

This reduction has left many of our roads and highways in disrepair, or woefully inadequate for their volume, and for years we’ve failed to produce meaningful solutions. This issue is one that greatly affects our lower and middle class residents, as potholes and other road defects that can damage vehicles creates the greatest issue for those that are already having trouble making ends meet.

And let us not forget those who rely on the roads beyond simple a daily commute. The Colorado Motor Carriers Association estimated that nearly 100,000 jobs stem from the trucking industry in Colorado as of 2016. 79 percent of Colorado communities rely exclusively on trucking to move their goods, and 89 percent of total manufacturing tonnage is transported via truck. Colorado’s roads are their offices. If the flooring was falling apart in your office, wouldn’t you fix it?

I applaud the governor for moving in the right direction with his budget proposal, putting an additional $148 million into our roads. While I personally believe that number should be higher, the fact remains that we are moving in the right direction.

Let’s invest in something meaningful, our roads, and benefits will stem from every corner of Colorado, in every neighborhood, and possibly in every household.

To this end, today Senators Cooke and Baumgardner will sponsor Senate Bill 1. This legislation will commit a portion of the forecasted revenue surplus year over year to the tune of approximately $300 million and will refer a measure to the voters of Colorado this November asking their permission to issue bonds on this commitment so that we can finally expand the I-25 gap from Monument to Castle Rock, so that we can finally expand I-25 North, and so that we can finally expand the I-70 West Mountain corridor. With this measure we will be able to finally start on the Tier 1 portion of the massive backlog in CDOT’s project list.

Today, let us commit to PERA reform that provides our state employees with the benefits they were promised, and deserve, while ensuring that future generations don’t have to foot the bill. This is not a new issue, nor should it be a surprise to any member of this chamber that it’s a top priority.

Current and future workers in the public sector have their own hopes and dreams for their careers and their retirement. Retirement security is a big part of those plans.

Protecting only today’s retirees is insufficient; we must have our public pension system on sound financial footing so that today’s and future employees can also be paid when they retire.

We also must come to terms with the fact that the workforce is changing, and that the solutions of the past may not be what is preferred by some of today’s workers.

All public sector employees should have the same opportunities and choice in retirement planning that the State of Colorado employees enjoy; denying that choice is fundamentally not fair.

The magnitude of the problem is larger than many believe – very possibly PERA is underfunded in excess of $55 Billion. This is large enough to affect the credit rating of the State and public institutions – and raise bonding costs for all important public construction projects. This unfunded liability is a debt in excess of $10,000 per man, woman, and child in Colorado. The fact that we don’t exactly know how much trouble we’re in also shows the need for more transparency in PERA’s finances. It will only serve to bolster confidence and give better understanding of the challenges we now face.

Some say that we can put off reform for another year. Doing so will merely increase the debt we are facing by millions of more dollars – and put more financial strain on the pension system.

Several proposals call for additional involvement by taxpayers – beyond the significant payments being made today for debt service. It is only fair then to ask for in return structural changes to PERA that start to deal with long term risk. We have to stop digging the hole at the same time that we are trying to fill it.

If Option A is to do nothing, Option B is to apply a Band-Aid, and Option C is to do the hard work, I say we pick Option C.

I won’t be here ten, twenty, or thirty years from now, and neither will any of you. I surely don’t want to hear the senators that fill our seats saying what a shame it is that the 71st General Assembly couldn’t solve this issue back in 2018. I don’t want future generations trying to tackle a $100 billion dollar unfunded liability when we could have solved it now.

The choice rests with each of us. If we all, together, commit to solving the PERA question this year, then it isn’t a matter of what we’re going to get done this session, it’s simply a matter of how we’re going to get it done. And through the leadership of Sen. Tate and others we have an opportunity to accomplish this! An opportunity that we cannot simply let pass by.

Today, let us commit to finding solutions to bring broadband to our rural communities across Colorado. We have an opportunity to advance the education, economic growth, and healthcare systems of Colorado by ensuring that every corner of our State is effectively connected to the internet.

Whether it’s the 5th grader in Dove Creek trying to get his homework done or the business owner in Creede wanting to sell his goods online, or a hospital in Hugo researching life-saving solutions for their patient, there are few opportunities that can bring so much benefit to so many Coloradans.

We have a duty to ensure that internet service providers can provide fast internet connections to every household in Colorado. Where our State has neglected to invest previously, we must prioritize, and where our State Government has gotten in the way, we need to reign it in. In fact, as I stand here right now there are potential decisions being made right across the street that could use existing grant dollars to overbuild existing infrastructure. Any legislation that we propose must protect existing providers from government subsidized competition. Any funds that we create here should be used to improve truly unserved areas of the state.

The internet has brought more people together, allowed more economic mobility, and advanced research and technology unlike anything mankind has ever seen before. A true child of the free market, it belongs to no one man or any government, it belongs to the people. It has been around for decades now, and it’s time to make sure every Coloradan has access to it.

Senators Coram and Sonnenberg will be leading the effort this year to finally bring a solution to funding and access to rural broadband.

Today, let us commit to reforming our Energy Office and implementing energy policies that embraces all forms of energy for our residents.

Personally, I don’t care if it’s oil, natural gas, wind, solar, coal, nuclear, hydro, or if they find some way to harness the power of the hot air rising from the Capitol Dome, I am for a diverse energy portfolio in the State of Colorado, and we should all be for that.

As new energy forms emerge, we must also not forget the traditional forms of energy, like oil and gas, that employ approximately 100,000 of our residents and bring around $30 billion in economic activity each and every year. Government shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers. Instead, let’s open the markets and encourage energy development in all sectors that keeps and brings jobs to Colorado while lowering heating bills to consumers in each and every one of our districts.

I’d like to thank Sen. Scott for taking the lead on this issue with a bill that will modernize, repurpose, and redefine the mission of the energy office, focusing on an all-of-the-above energy policy for Colorado.

Last year, Republicans and Democrats in this chamber pushed a bipartisan effort to fund our hospitals, education, and transportation. As part of that legislation was a request for a 2 percent reduction in spending for every department except for education and transportation. As we all know, this request was not honored. That is why Sen. Sonnenberg will be proposing a reduction in Colorado’s income tax rate, proportionate with that 2 percent. If this government can’t live up to its guarantees, than we are better giving the money back to Colorado taxpayers.

A health crisis that has been brewing for years in the United States has unfortunately not ignored our own State. Morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, Percocet, Vicodin, cocaine. I’m speaking of opioid abuse. It has claimed the lives of far too many individuals who simply sought pain relief from injuries and medical procedures, and to those it hasn’t killed, it has left homeless, unemployed, divorced, and alone. It has personally affected far too many of our families and communities, tearing them apart at the seams, and 2018 will be the year we address it head on.

That’s why I am proud to see a package of legislation coming forward this session to help tackle this crisis, and I would like to recognize the Opioid Abuse Study Committee for their great work in the interim on this important issue, in particular, Senators Jahn, Lambert, Moreno, Priola, and Tate. Let us lead the way and tackle what could be the greatest health crisis our nation has faced thus far in the 21st century.

Finally, let us commit to creating a welcoming and respectful workplace environment here in the Capitol building. Many pundits, commentators, lobbyists, and legislators have made their opinions known, and I don’t think anybody here is of the belief that the status quo is working, or that action shouldn’t be taken. That’s why I’m proud to work alongside the leadership in both houses to take steps to ensure that our Capitol remains a safe, welcoming and respectful work environment for all doing business here.

Today, let us commit ourselves to trying our best. That’s all we can do. Let us respect one another, not by the R or D next to our names, but by the fact that we’re all Coloradans, we’re all Americans, and we’re all humans. I have no doubt that every single individual serving in this body is passionate about making Colorado a better place to live, a better place to work, a better place to raise a family, a better place to settle down. That is where we can find our common ground.

I look forward to the journey we will share over these 120 days. And when we look back on “Today”, we can say “Today, we committed ourselves to a brighter future and a better Colorado. Together."

Thank you all, God bless each of you through this session and God Bless the great State of Colorado.