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Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert addresses the chamber as the legislature resumes work at the state Capitol on Feb. 16, 2021.

On Dec. 4, 2020, The Denver Post editorial board wrote, "Colorado lawmakers show Congress how coronavirus relief should be done in a three-day special session with limited resources. The Colorado general assembly did more for Coloradans than Congress had since last March." Given my political views, I find it somewhat common to disagree with The Denver Post editorial board.

But on that one, I say, yes. I say, thank you Mr. President. I say, thank you to you, majority leader and all the members of the Senate and even our friends in the lower chamber across the way. Yes, in those three days, we did more for Coloradans than Congress had last year. We can do that again.

It's an interesting dynamic that we are in here currently because given the press today, last Friday in recent days, it seems like we senators, we 35 select people from around Colorado, might be in more agreement than disagreement. On the first opening day of this session. I said, thank you to the members of the joint budget committee and I will say thank you again. It seems thus far that the legislative branch is thinking more alike than different.

It seems like the legislative branch might be thinking more alike and maybe finding some disagreement or at least some concern with the executive branch. And I appreciate that. We don't know what the answers are yet, but Governor Polis has continued to speak about stimulus spending and that's certainly a motivation for us all.

We did that in that three-day special session. We came back because we had more dollars than we thought we would after we reduced our expectation of dollars by about $3 billion of those dollars. Stimulus spending will definitely be a topic, a major topic, and it is enticing to start talking about new ways that we can spend dollars, but let us not forget members, Mr. President, we cut spending last spring. The joint budget committee did that.

I believe I've mentioned before, I received an email from a constituent right after we adjourned on June 15th. And he said, "Cut spending before proposing to raise taxes." And I wrote back, that's exactly what we did. And yet I think many people in Colorado don't know that, or if they hear those words, they don't believe it.

But our state constitution requires that. We are not Congress. We can only allocate spend the dollars that we actually will have and through this complex process of looking out a year into the next fiscal year, that starts July 1st and guessing projecting, estimating how many dollars we will have our joint budget committee now has the task of figure setting and preparing the next budget based on guesses for revenue for that next fiscal year. And before that, we will have a series of supplemental bills based on actual revenues that we've actually started to collect.

So that special session that we had those three days at the end of November and beginning of December, we did spend money effectively for the people of Colorado because we had more dollars than we thought we would after we ratcheted down those estimates by some $3 billion.

We know that Congress is now prepared to take action, The action that the Denver Post editorial board said that they didn't take last year. It looks like they're about to take action to the tune of $2 trillion. What does that mean for Colorado? The estimates that I've heard would be about $5 billion, $5 billion is a lot for us. Our guess last year was that we were going to be looking at a fiscal year with $11 to $12 billion and we had to ratchet that down by about three, three and a half to somewhere around $8.5 billion. We're coming in a little bit above that, but that's a lot less than $11 or $12 and if we get $5 billion or so from the federal government, that's a lot.

Our ask for the Senate minority caucus is let's continue to have those discussions about stimulus spending, but, and this is where I think we're starting to see some agreement in the press, let's wait until we actually have those dollars before we start spending. I've heard the phrase, don't count your chickens until you're until they're hatched. Let's make sure we even have eggs, before we count the eggs before they become chickens.

If we've got $5 billion coming from Congress, from the federal government, that's good news for us. We believe in the Senate minority caucus that our focus should first be restoring where the cuts were made. I can't help but think back to the days where Republicans held the governor's office and a majority of both legislative chambers. I can't help but think back to times where I and my caucus have said, let's have at least $400 million a year for transportation funding specific for roads or bridges. And I remember being accused that I, or we Republicans didn't care about teachers and kids, that taking a dollar away from K-12 and putting it into roads and bridges meant that somehow we had less compassion or concern for public education.

That was not true then and it is not true. Now we are not going to levy that accusation against members of the joint budget committee, no matter what political designation letter you have by your name. This is a challenging time for Colorado and we met that challenge during the special session and we are prepared to meet that challenge now, but our ask is let's not start allocating, let's not start committing stimulus dollars that we don't have yet. If we get them, great.

Education funding.

We're told that there's some 30,000 students who've gone missing. Were they actually there before? Has count day worked correctly? Were any of those students counted twice or were any students not counted?

This has been an ongoing discussion for those who have served on the education committees: count day is not a perfect science and COVID has certainly affected that. If there are 30,000 students less in the count, if PPR is about $8,000 each, that's a lot of money. That's like $240 million. That's a lot of money for us.

Where did those students go? Did they move to a different state? Did they go to private? Are they homeschooling? Is this a temporary issue? Is it going to last for this school year or two or three years? Will that 30,000-student shift, will that be a five-year issue or tenure issue? What about the negative factor? Excuse me, the budget stabilization factor, we changed the label for that. A few years ago, we still got an IOU that's now 11 or12 years old that we haven't paid back and last spring, because we had to, we had to reduce funding.

So now, we hear that we're going to hold 178 school districts harmless. Okay, what does that mean? If we look at education funding in Colorado, we know from experience that our PPR is compared to total funding in other states. The way the states count dollars for K-12, there's not some uniform way that all 50 states and the District of Columbia and Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands and the other territories count it.

There's a list that's become known yearly when I asked for it as the Holbert spreadsheet. I asked for this first when I was on House Education. And what it shows is PPR over here on the left side and total funding over on the right. Total funding, yep, because PPR doesn't equate to total funding. For some school districts, the PPR, the per pupil revenue is close to 100% of the total funding for a given district. For three of them, a reporter reminded me just recently ,for three of them it's just about zero. Why? Because there's three school districts that exist where mining and severance tax and property taxes are the primary source of funding for those school districts. So when we say we're going to hold harmless those 178 school districts, because three 30,000 students have gone missing, what does that mean? Are we going to hold them harmless for 100% of their funding or just our portion of the funding? We don't know.

But I'm not here to point fingers, I guess I just did it myself, but I don't know. Republicans are here to ask the questions. That's one of the reasons we asked the governor to call a special session last August, but that was conveniently dismissed as a political stunt. Well, it wasn't.

These issues, these questions were among those. We wanted to have a discussion with and we thought it would be easier to ask the one person who can call a special session like he did in November and December then to have a discussion among a hundred of us where it takes two-thirds of us to agree and I believe that's never happened in the history of our state. But we're not here to blame or accuse. Now we're dealing with these questions. So what's the answer to that? What do we mean when we say, hold those districts harmless. If anyone in the press would like to see the spreadsheet, just stop by the minority office. We've offered it to you for years. You can have it now in a new updated version that's being worked on.

I've been asked many times, what about your priorities and that's frustrating. Being in the minority, the constitutional math, you all know this, the public doesn't always remember this. The majority, you can pass whatever bill you want to and we don't even need to show up. We will show up.

But to the constituents out there in Colorado, who will inevitably start emailing, calling, or asking questions and face-to-face meetings, "Why don't you have the backbone to deny quorum? Don't show up, refuse to vote." That works in some state legislatures. It doesn't work in this one. Our constitution defines the quorum requirement, how many people need to be in the chamber, as a simple majority. And the math right now is the majority has 20 members and the minority has 15. A simple majority in this chamber is 18. So if the 15 of us go to Wyoming and refuse to come to the Capitol and refuse to vote, you all can start business on your own and pass any bill you want to just as you can when we're here.

So to the people of Colorado, when we disagree on things, we will be here at this mic. We will speak as long as we possibly can to the bill, because we can't filibuster in Colorado. We have to actually speak to the bill, but we will put our best effort forward to draw out that conversation to make the points. But don't be surprised over the next hundred and 16 days and 120 next year. We'll probably see a lot of decisions made on a vote of give or take a few 20 to 15. Surprising to anyone here? No.

As the minority, we're not here just to fight. We're not. And we saw that in the special session, but as members of the minority, we call upon you, Mr. President, Mr. Majority leader, members of the majority, we are encouraged by what we think we hear about stimulus spending. We're encouraged by what we think we hear about not spending those stimulus dollars until we actually have, because if we start allocating $5 billion with the anticipation of getting them and then we don't, we can't dig our way out of that hole. So we want to be cautious.

We're known as conservative. You’re generally known as liberal. If we can find a way to be a little bit more like us on timing of that, we would be grateful.

The governor's power.

We've had a lot of conversations about this. We are not trying to step on the governor's authority during this declared disaster emergency, during this pandemic. Last year, Sen. Lundeen introduced a concurrent resolution. It sought to amend the constitution to have the people weigh in every 30 days, should we come back and have to agree with the governor to extend a declared disaster emergency that died in committee that's off the table.

We understand 30 days is too frequent, and we're not interested in trying to affect this declared disaster emergency, but members, do we have 11 months of experience now that we can draw upon for the future? Yes we do. When the current statutes, when the current legislative rules were drafted, did that have more to do with what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, then a pandemic and wearing masks? Why? Yes, that was an influence.

We would like to have a conversation about future prolonged disaster emergencies and we're asking the question 90 days, six months, a year? We're a part-time citizen legislature, we're not here eight months a year. If we're back in this kind of situation in the future, should, at some point, we be required to come in and review the situation?

For instance, rulemaking. We have a rule review bill every year, hundreds of rules. We, the legislative branch, delegate the authority to the executive branch to make those rules. Apparently there's apparently there's no such oversight when it comes to the governor's executive orders.

Did any of you ever anticipate that we would have a governor issuing over 300 executive orders over a year-long period? I'll admit if you'd asked me last year, I would've said no. Snow storms, floods, wildfires. Fortunately, those things don't last that long, but now we have this experience. Should we stand up as a legislative branch and say, "Yeah, we should come back after six months or nine months or some time period and look at the effect of those rules made by executive order."

That's not stepping on the authority of the man who happens to sit in the governor's seat right now. That's asking a future question. We as Coloradans, where should our legislative branch be in that dynamic? Have you heard from constituents who have asked you why you decided to open hair salons at 50% of the posted occupancy or 10 people, whichever is less. Have you had to explain to them that you didn't make that decision? I have, have you talked to constituents, maybe people who work at restaurants or bars or breweries, why did we cap their capacity at a certain percentage? We didn't do that. How about the distribution of vaccines? Have you talked to anyone about the plan to distribute the vaccine and why they didn't like it and asked you why you did it that way? And then you had to explain you didn't" I'm not here to blame Gov. Polis and his administration. I'm saying that the people who will sit in our seats in the future, if they are faced with a pandemic, let's not put them in the same situation. Let's give them some ability to respond as a legislative branch.

Finally, Ms. President, I think that what we seek as the minority caucus is to get government out of the way. I can't wait, I cannot wait to be at an Avs game. I'm a hockey fan first, Broncos are awesome, but I love hockey. To be back at now what is Ball Arena to watch the Avs with a full arena, without these on, maybe spill a beer on each other yelling and screaming -- I can't wait to be back in that environment. But we're not there yet. Senate Republicans are not asking for more government, not asking for the government to continue to tell the people of Colorado what they can't do. What we're here to do is find ways that we can get beyond this pandemic, beyond COVID-19.

I agree with you, Mr. President, we'll find a way where this will be in the past. The first step is getting our kids back into face-to-face live teaching in school. That will allow parents, especially single parents to get back to work. And then when people can get back to work, employers can start hiring, can get people back into their offices, back into those workplaces.

Our world, I think, will change permanently. Remote participation, that's going to be a bigger deal. We'll probably see our lease obligation for the state go down. I've heard the governor estimate, maybe 20, 30%. Hey, there's more dollars for education.

Senate Republicans are looking forward to the opportunity to work together on these things, but just to start where I ended or end where I started, excuse me, the other way around -- we want to be very careful that we don't start over promising and under delivering. If there's $5 billion federal dollars coming, they can deficit spend and they do. We can't.

If there's one blessing that I've found over the past 11 months in this pandemic, it is the opportunity to explain to constituents how their state legislature is so different from the one out in Washington, DC. I explained to people that we have one bill we have to pass by the constitution every year that's the budget and that the budget must be balanced. And the most frequent follow-up question is, "What's the deficit?"

Let me explain what balanced means, no offense bosses. It's so different and I wish the press would write about it more so people would say, wow, I live in a state that doesn't carry long-term debt like that. We don't have deficit spending. We can't borrow.

But if Congress decides to do this $1.9 or $2 trillion stimulus, and there's $5 billion coming, we're going to have a lot to do. What we're asking is let's restore the cuts that had to be made last spring before we find new ways to spend money. Does that mean that we don't care about people getting back to work? No, we do. I think the best thing we can do is get the schools back open, fund them adequately, maybe even cut into that negative factor, but let's restore where we cut first. Before we imagine new ways to spend money.

Mr. President, we did it here in the special session. I think we showed that again during the first three days of this session. And as we venture into day four, with 116 left, we can get this done. Mr. President, let's get to work. Thank you.

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