Here is the text of the address delivered by House speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, at the opening session of the 69th General Assembly this morning:
"Majority Leader Weissmann, Minority Leader May, members of the Colorado General Assembly, and distinguished guests, welcome to the opening of the First Regular Session of the 67th General Assembly. I am honored and humbled to lead this chamber as its 34th speaker, and thank you all for your support.
"I also want to thank the people of Colorado, who this November elected or reelected 65 members to the House to govern our state. The people have granted all of us a unique opportunity at a critical time in history. Of the 65 members of the Colorado House of Representatives, 17 of you took the oath of office for the first time today.
"I want to congratulate each of the following new members on their election: Cindy Acree, Dennis Apuan, Randy Baumgardner, Laura Bradford, Lois Court, Cheri Gerou, Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, Beth McCann, Joe Miklosi, Carole Murray, Sal Pace, Kevin Priola, Su Ryden, Sue Schafer, Scott Tipton, Ed Vigil and Mark Waller.
"I also want to recognize a few special guests who have joined us in the chamber today, many of whom are former members of the House. The Honorable Rosemary Marshall who I served with for 6 wonderful years is here today, as are the Honorable Wilma and Wellington Webb, the Honorable Gloria Tanner, the Honorable Regis Groff, the Honorable Michael Hancock and the Honorable Penfield Tate II. Please welcome these dedicated public servants and wonderful friends. I also want to thank Mrs. Mary Louise Lee for her rousing versions of the Star Spangled Banner and Lift Every Voice and Sing.
"Finally, I would be remiss if I did not single out the service of two departing members of this chamber. Speaker Andrew Romanoff and Majority Leader Alice Madden led our caucus for five years and our chamber for four, working tirelessly to move this state forward. When they began their tenures, the state had been ravaged by one of the worst budget crises in our history.
"Today, due in no small part to their efforts, 18,000 more students can afford the opportunity to go to college; 20,000 more kids have the chance to go to preschool and kindergarten; 50,000 more Colorado children will be able to get the health care they need; And every Colorado consumer has access to the clean energy technologies of tomorrow. Both parties, and indeed the entire state, benefited from Andrew Romanoff and Alice Madden’s capacity to consider various – and at time competing – viewpoints. Their thoughtful management of this chamber translated into transformative policies that have benefited all of Colorado. Please join me now in thanking them both for their years of service.
"The 65 of you in this room elected to the 67th General Assembly come from many different walks of life. Standing with us today are teachers, doctors, lawyers, farmers, ranchers, businessmen and women, members of the armed services and veterans who have risked their lives for our freedom. We have mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. We have folks from big cities and small towns, the eastern plains and the western slope, blacks, whites, Hispanics, and pacific islanders. We have third and fourth generation Coloradans, others born out of state, and some of you who were even born abroad. We have liberals, moderates, and conservatives.
"We, members, represent the diverse fabric of Colorado’s community.
"A patchwork of unique and wonderful biographies that together make Colorado, like America, different and more magnificent than other societies in history. But that patchwork alone does not make this country great.
"What makes America great is that the fabric of our community is sewn together by a single thread. That thread is called opportunity.
"My mother – the daughter of a sharecropper and the granddaughter of a slave – taught me the importance of opportunity. She taught me that lesson even though her formal education did not extend beyond the third grade.
"She was 51 years old when I was born – she would have turned 90 this year, if she were still with us. I was her only child, and she raised me alone, in Anacostia, one of the toughest neighborhoods in one of the toughest towns in America: Washington D.C.
"Growing up, our nickname for the neighborhood was Dodge City. In my neighborhood, young black men were expected to be nothing more than a number on a police blotter.
"My mother, a woman of unconditional love and unbounded grace, understood that my only way out of the neighborhood was to capitalize on each opportunity, which came first in the form of a free public education.
"America cares not where you came from but only where you want to go. But for America to continue to flourish, we must be diligent in our work to preserve existing opportunities that are the engines of prosperity and offer new opportunities where none existed before.
"I know Colorado is a place where informed leaders still believe our promise is not yet fulfilled, and won’t be until each child has the opportunity to realize his or her full potential, each hardworking Coloradan has the opportunity to find a job, raise a family, and retire with security and dignity.
"I offer that our principal charge should be to continue to expand the circle of opportunity, so that every single Coloradan may have a genuine chance to succeed.
"Our task comes at a unique time. The world we live in today seems less secure than the world we inhabited just a short time ago. The state and the nation face a bleak economic outlook.
"More Coloradans are losing their jobs; The price of energy continues to fluctuate wildly; Spending and consumer confidence are down. And while Colorado, with its diversified economy and well-trained workforce, has fared better than the country as a whole, we are not immune to those forces driving the downturn.
"We’ve already seen firsthand how a global crisis affects us locally; A bank failure in Milan can hurt a cattle rancher in Meeker. Plant closings in Detroit can mean layoffs in Denver.
"As the recession worsens, what was once a quiet crisis is now loud, and threatens to become deafening.
"In these difficult times, Americans have sent a clear message to their political leaders: we don't care where you come from, what color your skin is, or what party you belong to. We care only how you can move us forward.
"The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “[t]he ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
"Members, the road ahead is besieged with challenges and controversy. Our response should not be panic or haste, but instead sound judgment, a steady hand, and an unflinching commitment to this great state.
"And as we tackle a weakening economy and difficult budget choices, let us never take our eyes off of our greater purpose; to expand the circle of opportunity in Colorado. May we all measure up to that task.
"Today, I ask each of you, the members of the Colorado House of Representatives, to work together toward achieving three common goals to help expand opportunity:
"First, to bring new, high-paying jobs to Colorado
"Second, to provide support for struggling families
"And finally, to build a world class public education system
"To meet these goals, I ask that we make an honest attempt to set aside our partisan differences, to look past ideological extremes, and to search for common ground. And while we will demonstrate bold but pragmatic leadership, we will also remember that no leader, political party or interest group has a monopoly on good ideas.
"Job One this legislative term is to create good jobs for Colorado.
"That’s why this November, Senate President Groff and I created the bi-partisan Committee on Job Creation and Economic Growth. Together, we tasked that committee with crafting real solutions to bring new jobs to Colorado right now and to help get our economy back on track. The 10 members of that committee have already met half a dozen times and are soliciting ideas from business pioneers, civic leaders and individuals from across the state. I want to thank our 5 House members for working so hard over the last two months: Representatives Joe Rice, Buffie McFadyen, Judy Solano, David Balmer, and Larry Liston.
"We look forward to hearing your committee’s recommendations.
"But the magnitude of this crisis compels us to act immediately. Already, a number of promising ideas have come forward. Colorado’s businesses, especially our small businesses, are the engine of our economy and the source of many of this state’s jobs.
"Today we will introduce legislation sponsored by Representative Joe Rice to provide a new Colorado Jobs Tax Credit to companies that bring good, high paying jobs to our state.
"Recently, we’ve seen many small businesses struggle to keep their doors open because they can’t borrow the money they need to pay the bills. To continue growing, those businesses need access to capital and credit.
"So this year we will revive the Colorado Credit Reserve Program.
"With a small guarantee from the state, the program will encourage lenders to loan as much as $50 million to Colorado small businesses so they can stay afloat during this difficult period. Thank you to Representatives Sara Gagliardi and Don Marostica, and the Office of Economic Development, for their hard work on this issue.
"It’s no secret that Colorado’s roads and bridges need attention. Today, Colorado has 126 structurally deficient bridges and thousands of miles of roads that need work. We have $1.2 billion in shovel-ready road projects waiting for dollars and workers to arrive. And we have thousands of contractors, engineers, and construction workers sitting at home without jobs. Our current transportation funding system has failed to provide the dollars to get those shovels moving and get people back to work.
"Over the next few weeks, we must work with Governor Ritter and our delegation in Congress, to make sure we get the federal funding we need to start bringing new jobs to Colorado to fix our crumbling roads and broken bridges by this summer. But our work cannot stop there. We must pursue a long term, sustainable funding solution that continues to create jobs year in and year out and maintains safe roads and bridges.
"We want to create an economy where the best jobs and most innovative companies are housed right here in Colorado. We should continue to invest in our clean energy economy and the other high tech industries that are bringing new companies with them, new green collar jobs to Colorado.
"We know our recent work is already paying off: in just the last two years, we’ve seen the creation of 22,000 high-paying New Energy jobs. I look forward to working with Representatives Judy Solano, Andy Kerr, Michael Merrifield and others on a variety of innovative proposals that will continue to expand the market for solar and wind energy by removing barriers and making clean energy more accessible to homes, schools, and businesses.
"And, with the help of Representative Jim Riesberg, we will continue to invest in our promising bioscience industry to convince small, high-tech companies make Colorado their home.
"Finally, to attract companies that will be profitable tomorrow to locate in Colorado today, we must train a workforce with the skills they need to compete for these high paying jobs. So with the assistance of Representatives Nancy Todd and Ed Vigil, we will expand our job training programs at community colleges, with a special emphasis on preparing our labor force to tackle the good green collar jobs that are on their way.
"Unfortunately, more Colorado families are struggling financially today than at any other time in recent memory.
"And while we’ve made recent gains – expanding access to health care for 50,000 kids; supporting more students so they can afford college; and helping our poorest families cover their energy bills – the ebb of the economic tide is dragging many Colorado families backwards.
"My mother used to say, “Help people a little bit, point them in the right direction, and they will take care of the rest.” That’s why this year, we pledge to continue assisting Coloradans at the margins, particularly those being hit hardest by the economic slowdown – children, middle-class families, and older Coloradans, so that they too may know the good fortune of opportunity.
"There is a challenging paradox in government: As the need for services increases with a recession, actual revenues tend to decrease. This year we will be faced with tough decisions about how to trim an already lean budget. Though I cannot say today exactly how much or where the cuts should come from, I will say this:
"We will spend only what we can afford. We will balance the budget. We will put our money where our values are. We will do everything in our power to preserve the critical services that create opportunity: for children to get an education; for struggling families to go to the doctor when they are sick; for the unemployed to stay afloat while they search for their next job, and for Colorado families trying to protect their American Dream.
"More than 16,000 Colorado homeowners are now in foreclosure. And close to 6,000 families are on the brink. When Coloradans lose their homes, a breadwinner is more likely to lose his or her job, a child is less likely to graduate from high school, and families are more likely to slip into poverty.
"Keeping families in their homes provides a substantial benefit to all of us. It reduces pressure on our government safety net and it helps maintain home values so that our neighborhoods can thrive. And when Coloradans restructure their debt so they are able to pay back their loans, it ensures banks can keep lending to the next homeowner and the next small business entrepreneur.
"So this year, I welcome the legislation authored by Rep. Mark Ferrandino that will offer those Coloradans facing foreclosure a “temporary timeout;” a little extra time to work with their lenders to save their homes.
"Sadly, home buying remains only a dream for far too many Coloradans, especially those facing the specter of poverty. In these difficult times, many live paycheck to paycheck. And no one is more impacted by the evolving economic reality than our kids. This decade, the percentage of Colorado children living in poverty has risen eighty-five percent! That’s one of the highest increases in the entire country. And that is unacceptable! Reducing poverty is absolutely essential to building a strong, 21st century economy that works for everyone.
"That is why this year, Rep. John Kefalas will introduce an ambitious plan creating a framework to expand opportunity and reduce poverty significantly over the next ten years. Called the Economic Opportunity Task Force, the body will be charged with developing a strategic, integrated and comprehensive plan to help lift families out of poverty.
"The most important opportunity that government provides is a free public education to every child that wants one. But this opportunity afforded our kids is only as good as the quality of the education they receive. Unfortunately, when our schools fail, our students fail too. Too many of our students drop out of school before graduation. Those who drop out are more likely to commit a crime. They have a harder time finding a job. They are more likely to become a teen mom or a teen dad. And they’re more likely to struggle with addiction.
"During the past few years, we’ve committed to reducing the dropout rate, and taken the first necessary steps toward achieving that goal. We’ve expanded access to early childhood education, and we’ve worked to lay the foundation for a comprehensive kindergarten through college curriculum that prepares all our kids for the future.
"But that’s not enough. Rep. Karen Middleton is introducing legislation to create an Office of Dropout Prevention and Student Reengagement, to make sure that students complete their high school studies, and are ready to take the next step, whatever that step may be. And Rep. Debbie Benefield is unveiling a plan intended to make sure that every child, regardless of their race, where they live, or what their socioeconomic background is, has access to a high-quality teacher. And Rep. Michael Merrifield’s legislation will make it easier for high school students to have access to the college and technical training they need to get good, high-paying jobs.
"But student engagement requires parental involvement. When parents are involved, when they track their child’s performance, and keep close contact with their teachers, their child is more likely to succeed. Unfortunately, many parents simply can’t get enough time away from their job to help their children become effective learners. I hope this year to pass legislation from Rep. Andy Kerr that allows parents to take a few hours, unpaid, to step away from work to attend meetings at school without worrying about losing their jobs.
"Coloradans have weathered previous storms because we recognize opportunity and don’t let it pass us by.
"Perhaps no one in Colorado history had a better appreciation of the significance of opportunity than Barney Ford – the man called “The Black Baron” of his day -- whose image watches over this chamber. [Note: the stained glass window directly over the podium on the chambers’ west wall is a full portrait of Barney Ford]. Born a slave in Virginia, Ford escaped servitude by way of the Underground Railroad when he was still a young man. Once in Colorado, he capitalized on the opportunities provided to him by the New West. He became a successful gold prospector, hotelier, and landowner. But his influence extended well beyond his business achievements. Ford recognized what King later said, that the real measure of a man is where he stands in times of challenge and controversy. He led successful efforts to hold up Colorado’s bid for statehood until black suffrage was constitutionally secured. And he founded the first adult education program in the state, where men and women – many freed slaves newly-emigrated from the South – got their very first opportunity. Barney Ford saw that Colorado was a place where opportunity knows no bounds. A place where hard work, a willingness to take a risk, and personal sacrifice can lead to a better life.
"The task before us is to ensure that opportunity is available to this generation of Coloradans and the next. And while the path to prosperity will be challenging, and at times fraught with controversy, our journey must be successful. We cannot travel this path alone. We must lock arms and walk together toward a future for this great state where every child has the opportunity to get a quality education; to go to a great college; to find a good job; to raise a healthy family; and to live a decent life.
"I look forward to our journey together. Thank you and God bless you."