The Denver Post did their homework for a change, and it’s going to leave a mark:
In the Republican quest to show that Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter has mishandled the state budget, no GOP criticism has hit him harder than the contention that Ritter has hired 4,000 employees since taking office.
Republican lawmakers have repeated the assertion over the past year, and it has become a key talking point for Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, as he runs for governor…
You’ve heard this argument already–it’s a waypoint in every one of Minority Leader Josh Penry’s recent stump speeches. Bill Ritter, as the story goes, hired thousands of new state employees since taking office, obviously an example of Democrat profligacy, dishonesty, etc…
But the charge doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, as the Post continues:
But an analysis of GOP claims shows Republicans are counting many state workers over which Ritter and lawmakers have little say in hiring, firing or furloughing.
And in some areas of state government where Ritter did add employees, he often did so at the direction of lawmakers from both parties – including Penry.
…Of the 4,446 employees Republicans point to as having been added under Ritter, 46.6 percent of those, or 2,071, were higher-education employees, whose hirings are not directly controlled by the governor or the legislature. Colleges and universities make appropriations requests based on enrollment and other cost factors, but they don’t seek approval for hiring employees, and lawmakers and the governor don’t lay them off or furlough them.
As the Post explains, the passage of 2005’s Referendum C mandated increases in higher education spending–that means new employees, mostly hired in the first two years after passage. Obviously, Josh Penry is no fan of Referendum C, but it is what it is.
Where this becomes truly laughable, however, is when we turn to the other “new hires” Penry is grousing about. From the judicial branch to Ritter’s “bloated executive office.” The answer to both these j’accusations from Penry is pretty simple: “why did you sponsor the bill to hire them?”
The second-largest category of employees added over the same four budget years was to the judicial branch. Like higher education, the judicial branch can request more money, but the governor and legislature do not directly hire, fire or furlough its employees and can only decrease its funding.
The increase in judges and other court employees statewide accounted for 13.6 percent of the 4,446 employees added during the four budget years.
And of the 603 employees added to the judicial branch during the four fiscal years – workers who include judges, probation officers, public defenders, and court employees – 307 positions came through increased funding from just one bill in 2007.
Penry was a co-sponsor of that bill.
“I don’t know anyone who begrudges Gov. Ritter for hiring judges, parole officers, and other critical personnel,” Penry said.
The third-largest category of employees added over the four-year period were corrections workers, who accounted for 539, or 12.1 percent, of the 4,446. Much of the increase in corrections workers was due to the additional prison staff needed after the state started double-bunking inmates in some facilities as a result of a rising prison population.
Penry and other Republicans have also blasted Ritter for more than doubling the number of employees in his office from 121 to 376 since being elected.
But of those additional 255 employees, 212 – or 83 percent of those added – were existing information technology workers moved from other areas of state government and consolidated into the governor’s office in an efficiency move.
Penry also co-sponsored the 2008 bill that made that happen.
This story is as bad for Penry as it is good for Ritter. It paints Penry as dishonest and opportunistic, a candidate taking legislation he himself sponsored and using its effects against his opponent. It blows an enormous hole in one of Penry’s most damningly-worded claims against Ritter, and leaves the reader wondering if Penry ever knew what he was talking about.