[dropcap]T[/dropcap]aking Republican control of the State Senate for the first time in a decade, newly elected Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, lit candles in memory of three people, setting the tone for a session he hopes will benefit from stronger relationships among members.
The first candle was for Cadman’s mother, who died when he was just 18. The second was for Dave Mizner, deceased partner of Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver. The last was for Claire Davis, the teenager who lost her life in last year’s Arapahoe High School Shooting and whose parents looked on from the chamber floor.
“Success in this institution is not measured by passing bills, it is based on relationships built on respect, civility and trust,” said Cadman. “There are countless opportunities to make a point, but there are limited opportunities here to make a difference. Our ultimate success will be judged by the latter.”
After passing the president’s — bedazzled — gavel to Cadman, outgoing Senate President Morgan Carroll, D-Denver, emphasized the bipartisan track record of the 2014 session and said she had every reason to expect that record would continue now that Republicans enjoy the same 18-17 majority Democrats held last year.
“Bipartisanship is what makes this place work. We need to reach across the aisle and find common ground, and I think we have a good history of doing that, and the great news is, so do they,” agreed newly-elected Senate Majority Leader Mark Scheffel, R-Parker.
In his opening day speech, Cadman called for new approaches to school safety, building on the bipartisan safe-to-tell reporting program he and Carroll co-sponsored last year. When it came to education reform, Cadman similarly appeared to be mapping common ground.
“Testing has become too burdensome and it’s not increasing knowledge,” he said, adding that less than 41 percent of fourth graders are proficient in reading and that standardized tests have become far too expensive. “We are committed to reducing this burden so that our teachers can return to teaching.”
The comment drew applause from anti-Common Core conservatives and generally anti-standardized testing liberals.
“I think it’s an epiphany. Democrats and Republicans have both been creeping further toward testing over time,” said Carroll after the speech. “It’s one of the great opportunities of this session to ask a long overdue question: ‘Are we over-testing our kids?’ I think we are.”
The chamber members also seemed to draw close on economic priorities. At the podium, Carroll underlined the drop over the last year in state unemployment, from 6.5 percent to 4.1 percent.
“What’s right, what’s just, is an economy that works for everyone, not just a few at the top,” she said, agreeing with Republicans that the Colorado’s fastest-growing economy in the nation has nevertheless failed to reach many rural and some smaller urban areas.
“In terms of economic development it’s time we take a look at all the incentives we do and really evaluate if they’re working. If we’re smarter and more surgical about how we target that support, we can direct it to the regions and areas that really need it,” she said. She added that she plans to work with Cadman and others on streamlining regulations for targeted sectors and communities.
Republicans supported the idea of working to alleviate the “middle-class squeeze.”
Scheffel noted he and Jessie Ulibarri, a Democrat from Westminster, planned to again attack the complex issue of increasing affordable housing. Their measure will attempt to balance development industry concerns about construction-defect lawsuits and homeowner rights.
But the two sides will have work to do to bridge differing opinions on what to do about excess tax revenue and the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights requirement that they be returned to citizens. The economy has mostly recovered, at last, generating money for the state budget that has been sorely lacking. Education and transportation remain desperately underfunded.
“There are already a lot of discussions happening about the surplus and frankly I think these conversations are moot,” Cadman said. “The people of Colorado made that decision for themselves. Their constitution tells us it’s their money. They want it back, and we should give it back.”
Carroll said that any real solutions to the public funding problems are constitutional and will have to come from the people of Colorado themselves (not least because lawmakers would have to get a two-thirds vote to put anything on the ballot, which won’t happen in such an evenly divided legislature).
“We do think there’s broad enough interest outside the capitol to work on the TABOR issue,” she said. “But before we tell Coloradans, ‘Oh here’s the solution,’ we need to ask what they think. ‘If you had a choice between keeping, say, $16 or having the state retain $137 million to drop your tuition or better maintain transportation infrastructure or get full-day kindergarten and pre-school, which would you prefer?'”
[Sen. Bill Cadman on opening day. Photo by Tessa Cheek.]