Update: I’ve also uploaded a copy of the opening speech from Mike May’s counterpart in the Senate — minority leader Josh Penry, who sounds a strong note on the need for government reform. He’s not running for governor, but when it comes to this issue, go Josh go!
Today kicks off the legislative session down at Colorado’s State Capitol. Because of a federal grant deadline, action is already swiftly underway on some education bills.
Meanwhile, Republican House minority leader Mike May helped to kick things off with a speech that shows not only his party’s serious face to bring some fiscally conservative backbone to tackle some of the state’s looming problems, but also his own good humor. Full text of the speech below the fold:
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Good morning!
I would like to extend a special thank you to the spouses and families here today, especially to my beautiful bride Traci.
I would also like to welcome Reps. Del Grosso and Tyler. You picked a heck of a year to start here at the statehouse!
As most of you know, I am term-limited and this will be my last year in the House. Now is probably a good time to announce that I will not be seeking re-election.
It’s perhaps ironic that this coming year, filled with its challenges and opportunities, is a lot like my first year in the House. Looking around this room, I see only a few of my colleagues from that year – Reps. Frangas, Judd, McFadyen, Merrifield, Pommer, Weissmann and Mr. Speaker, who was elected through vacancy committee and showed up a little late, like Rep. Doug Bruce … Although I guess a big difference there is that the Speaker didn’t come in kicking. So many Democrats and one lone Republican survivor …
In 2003, like now, it was a difficult budget year. We had a shortfall, and we had to make tough decisions.
I’ve learned in my time here that sometimes there are no perfect options. This year, we have two imperfect choices: We can increase the burden on citizens to pay for our existing level of programs, bureaucracy, and services, OR we can make deep budget cuts and live within our means.
My vote, as I’m sure you could have guessed, will be for living within our means.
The bottom line is that the money the state spends is taxpayer money. Those taxpayers are the same people sitting around their kitchen tables at home trying to figure out how to make ends meet for their families.
Those families don’t have the first option I mentioned, they have to live within their budgets. It’s true that they can often count on the generosity of others, but at the end of the day it comes down to the money coming in and the money going out to pay the bills each month.
Colorado is required to balance its budget. But the state also has a few more tricks up its sleeve that it can use when times get tough. But just because we have those tricks, it doesn’t mean we should use them. You don’t increase taxes during a recession. You don’t delay your obligations and leave others in a bind, such as doctors who treat the state’s most needy patients. You don’t undertake substantive prison sentence reform solely for the purpose of balancing the budget. You don’t hurt the very businesses and consumers who can make the most difference in our economic recovery. At least, you don’t do these things without breaking a promise to Colorado.
Families around the state are budgeting and making tough decisions.
Many have lost income in the past year because of layoffs, furloughs, or fewer hours at work. Yet, they still have to pay the mortgage, buy food for their kids, put gas in their cars, heat their home, buy school supplies and pay their health care bills.
While those families are paying their own bills, they are also sending money to the state to pay for public safety, a transportation system, public education, and a safety net for the needy. Because people are making less, state tax revenue has also fallen. Taxpayer dollars were taken for granted in good times, and programs and services were expanded. Now, it is up us to choose what can and can’t be funded with those limited dollars. It’s a big responsibility, but that is our duty.
The state’s budget is directly tied to its economic prosperity, just as the budget of Colorado families is directly tied to their prosperity.
The Republican approach to the challenges this year will be guided by three goals:
First, we will support policies that encourage economic recovery and a strong job market. Clearly, jobs and the economy have to remain our key focus this year. Once our economy improves and our job market begins to expand again, conversations around the kitchen table will improve, and so will the state budget. The quickest way to economic recovery is through strong business policies and keeping the tax and fee burden low for families.
Our second goal is to balance the budget in a responsible way. We cannot with a clear conscience allow tough budget times to be an excuse for weakening the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights and permanently lengthening the reach of government. We must seriously consider the economic harm that will come from increasing taxes on businesses and consumers, without even a vote of the people. Also, we cannot close our eyes to the fact that one-time stimulus money brings only short-term solutions and comes with expensive strings from the federal government.
Our third goal is to avoid the mistakes of the past. It would be foolish to ignore the lessons we have learned from past mistakes. In my first year in the legislature, we made some good decisions, but I can think of quite a few that weren’t. But some of greatest lessons can come from mistakes made in just the past few years.
We would be better off if we had not spent every dime on the brink of this recession, when I stood in this very spot and said we should not write a check the next general assembly could not cash.
We would be better off if new government positions had not been added to the payroll, only to be followed by multiple-day furloughs for an expanded workforce.
We would be better off if we had welcomed the jobs and investment that oil and gas development was bringing to Colorado, instead of adding to their economic woes and helping drive those jobs and dollars away.
We would be better off if problems from the past two years had not been delayed, compounded, and pushed into this year.
We cannot continue to use payday-loan-like policies to balance our budget. We should do what needs to be done this year, so that next year, we actually are better off.
There are those who criticize my party when we say “no” to expensive programs and bureaucracy. But just six months ago I read a quote from the governor that perhaps says it best: “Sometimes leadership means having to say no.”
How much better off would the state be now if we had just said no to more spending, more programs, more bureaucracy, more taxes and more fees?
We cannot change what has already been done, but we can start showing real leadership now. We have an obligation to responsibly address our economy, our budget and our job market this year.
No one wants to see the pain caused by deep budget cuts. But we will be better off in the future if we live within our means.
I realize that I am standing here today saying this as the leader of the minority party in Colorado. I know that there are those in the majority party who would rather ignore this perspective and dismiss Republican comments, criticisms and alternatives as nothing more than politics.
What is more difficult is to work with those who disagree with you to find compromise and more balanced policies. I am not saying that I am always right – my wife can attest to that – but I am putting in a plug for the fine folks on this side of the aisle. We can bring a valuable perspective to important discussions this year. This year’s challenges will take all hands on deck.
Now, I realize that right now I am the only thing standing between you and lunch, so I thought I should at least warn you I’m only half-way through my speech.
Actually, I only want to emphasize one important point before I let everyone go: We have challenges ahead, but they are nothing compared to what some families and businesses have experienced during this historic recession. We cannot ever lose sight of the fact that every decision we make has a real-world impact. Every new mandate and regulation and tax increase comes with a very real price for our businesses, our taxpayers and our economy.
Let’s do the right thing.