Colorado state Senate leaders pledged to work together to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic but offered different priorities as lawmakers gear up for this year’s legislative session.
In an address to the chamber after lawmakers returned to the state Capitol after a five-week hiatus on Tuesday, Senate President Leroy Garcia called on members to use the tragedy wrought by the pandemic to “re-envision a community built on stronger ground.”
“Crises have the potential to be springboards if we let them,” said Garcia, D-Pueblo.
Meanwhile, Minority Leader Chris Holbert praised the bipartisan nature of the legislative response to the pandemic. But he urged caution on stimulus spending this year, calling on lawmakers to wait until Congress finalizes its next coronavirus relief package before allocating funds.
“I've heard the phrase, ‘Don't count your chickens until they're hatched,’ ” the Parker Republican said. “Let's make sure we even have eggs.”
In the first speech of the day, Garcia reflected on the last year, one which left the state’s healthcare and front-line workers “battered by the relentless winds and torrential rains of this pandemic.” He praised those in the healthcare sector battling the pandemic and front-line workers who put “the well-being of others before their own and pressed forward even in the darkest of hours.”
“Your courage, sacrifice and selfless devotion will be remembered long after the murals of you — painted on city walls all across this country — fade with time,” he said.
Garcia also decried the toxic political environment, which he said has only been magnified by social media and leaders who “have decided that fanning the flames of hatred is more politically viable than standing up for what is right, good and true.”
“This selfish allegiance to political expediency, though newly inflated, has been around for generations, creating a system that props up the wealthy and penalizes the poor, an economy that siphons hard work by the many to create power for the few,” he said.
It’s up to lawmakers, Garcia said, to dismantle that system and bounce back from the pandemic.
He called on the Senate to “urgently respond to the needs of our state,” including providing support to small businesses, helping to reopen schools, bolstering vaccine distribution and replenishing resources.
But beyond mere “restoration,” Garcia said lawmakers are charged with “reimagination” in building a Colorado focused on freedom, equity and opportunity.
“Will we simply rebuild the structures that stood before or will we remake our future – righting the wrongs of the past and fulfilling the promises of our predecessors? I believe we will choose the latter,” he said.
He highlighted three areas in particular:
Social justice and equity through “confronting the stain of systemic racism and bringing equity to the dark corners of our institutions.”
Protecting the environment by “utilizing clean energy to create jobs and rid our skies of toxic pollution."
A healthcare system “that is people-focused rather than profit-hungry and ensure that everyone, no matter their socioeconomic status, has access to the medicine they need.”
“Don’t tell me things can’t change,” Garcia said. “Despite all of our faults and failings, we have made progress.”
Holbert followed up by highlighting three areas that Republicans want to emphasize, including education funding, executive power and getting “government out of the way.”
“Senate Republicans are not asking for more government, not asking for government to continue to tell the people of Colorado what they can't do,” he said. “What we're here to do is find ways that we can get beyond this pandemic.”
Still, Holbert said he was encouraged by media reports he had seen on Democrats’ priorities and believed the chamber “might be in more agreement than disagreement,” particularly on stimulus spending.
He said with a reported $5 billion coming to the state from a congressional COVID-19 relief package, he would be open to discussions on how that money could be spent. First and foremost, he said, “let's restore the cuts that had to be made last spring before we find new ways to spend money.”
"This is a challenging time for Colorado and we met that challenge during the special session,” he said. “We are prepared to meet that challenge now, but our ask is let's not start committing stimulus dollars that we don't have yet.”