The Colorado legislature set to reconvene next week after another unplanned time-out due to the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats have a powerful mandate from Colorado voters to carry out their agenda, so there’s only one question: will they be as bold as they need to be to meet the moment?
Over 5,800 fellow Coloradans are dead from COVID-19. This includes the relatives of lawmakers, spouses, siblings, grandparents, parents and even children. Beloved teachers and friends. The list goes on and on, and the failure of the federal government to protect Americans, preferring instead to protect former President Donald Trump’s fragile ego while passing the buck to the states, has had devastating consequences.
We’re racing to inoculate as many people as possible ahead of the virus’ mutations. While some play petty political games over who gets the vaccine and when, here in Colorado we’ve fared better than average. In fact, according to a study by WalletHub and reported by The Denver Post, our transmission rate, vaccination rate, positivity rate, hospitalizations, and above all mortality make us the fourth safest state in the country — right behind Alaska, North Dakota, and Hawaii. Not bad considering we don’t have the advantage of being an island, incredibly sparsely populated, or solely bordering another country entirely.
The virus is far from vanquished and remains priority No. 1 for state lawmakers this legislative session. However, the same problems we had before the pandemic persist: massive income inequality, systemic racism, a transportation infrastructure badly in need of massive investment, the yoke of TABOR shielding the ultra-wealthy from paying their fair share, some of the lowest-paid teachers in the country, ballooning college tuition costs, an overdose and suicide epidemic that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, and all the other things we have failed to address. Meanwhile, in July of last year, Colorado’s ten richest people made about $7 billion in four months.
Our challenges are many, varied, and in many cases without easy solutions. So what should be the priority of the Democratic trifecta in Colorado’s state government?
They need to go big, or they need to go home.
We have two choices in front of us: we can go back to the old world, before the pandemic, where these ills plagued us and the fragile imbalance of Colorado’s demands and resources hurtled the state toward catastrophe.
Or, we can chart a new path. One that admits that the fact that lawmakers considering a bill to make it easier for families to have access to diapers at food banks while the wealthiest Coloradans raked in billions and even got an income tax cut is an utterly humiliating policy failure. One that admits our reliance on destructive and degenerative practices of fossil fuel extraction is a catastrophe, not something to celebrate.
We can go back to the exploitative, racist, unfair, rigged, degenerative systems of the pre-pandemic world that created the vulnerabilities that the virus brutally exposed; or we can create a new fairer, compassionate, anti-racist, collaborative, innovative, equitable and regenerative recovery in our spending priorities, our community investments, and our state’s economy.
Colorado gives away billions of dollars in tax breaks to some of the wealthiest, biggest corporations in the state every year, including hundreds of millions to the oil and gas industry while they exacerbate the effects of climate change. The Colorado Department of Revenue is required to produce a report every year detailing the amount of money the state didn’t collect due to loopholes and special treatment that special interests have carved out over the years. The 2020 report details over $7 billion in uncollected taxes that overwhelmingly benefit large, extremely profitable corporations. The legislature has not just the opportunity but the moral responsibility to close these loopholes, and invest those resources into benefiting Coloradans who still can’t find a job, families struggling to afford diapers and basic necessities, and small businesses who don’t have the benefit of a legion of well-heeled lobbyists to carve out special handouts just for them.
For the historic Democratic majority in the legislature and Gov. Jared Polis, now is not the time for timidity. It is time for boldness, innovation, and a hard line against entrenched interests who have had a free ride on the backs of Colorado taxpayers for far too long. Not only are these choices the right ones to make, they have the added benefit of being overwhelmingly popular. Colorado Democrats were elected by big margins to big majorities to get big things done. Now it’s time to deliver.
Ian Silverii is the executive director of ProgressNow Colorado, the state’s largest progressive advocacy group.
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