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Name: Bill Cadman
Occupation: President of the Colorado Senate
If you agree with the American adage that a good politician is someone voters would enjoy having a beer with, Bill Cadman is your guy. The witty president of the Colorado Senate isa Navy brat who moved here from California about 25 years ago, and he’s alternately genial and blunt as he discusses what’s great about Colorado—and what ails us. The Republican ascended to the top job in 2015, the first year since 2012 that Colorado has had a divided state Legislature. Thankfully, that schism hasn’t deteriorated into the Washington, D.C.–style gridlock that makes many voters want to dump that beer over politicians’ heads. We sat down with Cadman to talk about the last session and what to expect in 2016.
What were the highlights of the 2015 session?
We said we were going to do something on school safety, workforce development, testing reform, government accountability, and increases in educational funding. We did all of them. [Editor’s note: The 2015 state Legislature’s specific accomplishments in these realms were creating a bipartisan committee to address school safety, crafting financial incentives and new programs for postsecondary training, increasing standardized testing flexibility, increasing government audits, and setting a minimum per-pupil amount for schools.]
Why do you think it was so productive?
Republican leadership [laughs]. For the most part, 98 percent of what we do isn’t partisan. I think Colorado is unique in that legislators don’t spend a lot of time fighting about things we don’t agree on; we spend most of our time working on things we do agree on. That’s a big difference from the national level and from other states.
Were there any disappointments during the 2015 session?
Watching the fetal homicide bill [which sought to categorize assaults that result in the death of a fetus as homicides] lose in the House and hearing the same old rhetoric against it from the typical foes was really disheartening.
How did the fetal homicide bill differ from personhood legislation?
The difference is that in our bill, the termination was against the wishes of the mother. What we were attempting complies with what’s been done in three dozen other states and with federal law. That’s the caveat: A mother has the right to her own body and her own health-care choices, but when someone else takes that right away from her, she and her baby should be protected under the law.
Is there any specific legislation you can say we should look for in 2016?
It’s tough to do a pre-session preview because [a bill’s contents] are all confidential until the day it’s released. But we’ll always be discussing education funding, school testing, and the like.
What can Colorado no longer ignore?
We have a huge problem with funding our $1 billion education deficit, thanks largely to increased demand for our health and human services entitlement programs. I have a legislative to-do list for 2016 that deals with how we can spend our money more efficiently.
Does your political calculus change when it’s a presidential election year?
Subtly. With presidential years comes focus on whatever the issue du jour is. So with things like immigration, drug policy, and energy policy, we’re a reflection of national politics on the more micro level. We’ve seen Colorado become a lab for a lot of the energy and anti-energy stuff. We’re all concerned about future revenues for oil and gas, along with the increased regulatory environment. We’re going to start seeing some significant changes in energy tax policies because revenue has been lagging behind taxes.
Regardless of party affiliation, the unifying principle here does seem to be a love of Colorado.
Some of us were fortunate to be born here, like my kids, and others like me got here as soon as we could. Most of us could live anywhere else, and we all choose to be here for a reason. It’s the freedom, the mountains, the environment in general, and maybe part of that is the political landscape, too. You hear that a lot from businesses that move here. Colorado can’t offer the same financial incentives that some states do, but there’s a premium you receive by just being here from the quality of life, the educated workforce, and other assets.
Do you have a 2016 wish list?
I have a list of things that deal with how we can spend our money more efficiently on things like health care and retirement benefits. We have huge challenges about funding education deficits per Amendment 23, which is now approaching a $1 billion deficit. And past Legislatures have grown our health and human services and state-run health care to the point where it’s almost the largest component of our spending.
In the past 10 years, our overall population, our prison population, and our K through 12 population have grown around 20 percent each, and our general fund has grown 38 percent. Meanwhile, we have a 300 percent increase in the Medicaid population. So we have this massive amount of growth in the state-run health-care population that’s been the priority of Legislatures for the past 10 years, and we wonder why we’re a billion dollars short in education. We wonder why there’s not a penny for roads, or why there are no water-storage projects going. When a massive entitlement program doesn’t have its own funding stream, its funds come out of other funding streams, primarily education at all levels.
Frankly, what the Democrats have done for 10 years is even when the economy rebounds, the health and human services entitlement demand keeps growing. It’s supposed to peak out at some point, but we haven’t seen it yet. It creates a massive competition for funds between that program and every other program in the state. We grew a program—Medicaid—that provides more services to more people in a way that grew it exponentially compared to our population growth [300 percent, compared to our population increase of about 20 percent]. So that’s a huge challenge.