Sen. Penry says governor forcing budget proposal that could cut higher ed

Gov. Bill Ritter is pulling the strings in the legislative debate on the proposed $17.9 billion budget, which is predicated on large cuts to higher education, according to state Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.

Ritter’s spokesman, however, said the governor remains deeply involved with budget negotiations and has significant questions about a proposal to fill in the cuts with money from Pinnacol Assurance.

The state Senate on Friday approved the budget proposed by the Joint Budget Committee after first sending it back to the committee for more work.

“Then the governor inserted himself and said to move it along” as proposed by the budget committee, said Penry, the Senate minority leader.

Ritter is “working very closely with the Joint Budget Committee and the full Legislature to ensure a balanced budget,” said his spokesman, Evan Dreyer.

“The JBC makes its own decisions,” Dreyer said. “As flattering as it is to now know that Sen. Penry believes the governor can control the legislative process, it’s not true.”

The plan approved by the Senate calls for the state to take $300 million from money already marked for higher education and use it elsewhere, then use the Pinnacol money to fund higher education as planned.

Keeping alive the Pinnacol option could have serious political consequences for Ritter, said

Penry, who is considering his own bid to run against the governor next year.

“Under the best-case scenario, he’s gotten into a major fight with the business community and gotten one year’s worth of money, if that,” for higher education, Penry said.

Ritter is working on plans that could use money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for higher education and the public schools, Dreyer said.

Pinnacol is looking into ways it might be able to help, said Ken Ross, Pinnacol president and chief executive.

“We have put our best minds at Pinnacol on this,” Ross said, but it’s unclear whether the organization can be of help.


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