Rep. Penry’s attacks on Gov. Ritter’s hiring aren’t credible

“Republicans have lost credibility as a governing party,” Josh Penry told Chris Clazilla of the Washington Post. “At the state level we weren’t relevant on the nuts and bolts questions of governing.”

If Penry intends to make credibility on the fundamental nuts and bolts of governing a centerpiece of his campaign, he should strive to be credible himself as he discusses problems in state government he attributes to budgetary failures by Gov. Bill Ritter. Cooking statistics to undermine the governor’s handling of the state personnel budget says more about Penry’s credibility than about Ritter’s personnel hiring policies.

“Ritter has … added 4,000 jobs to state government in three years, and you can’t spend money fixing a bridge and keeping college affordable by hiring all those people,” Penry says on his Web site, “This guy has frittered the money away.”

Denver Post reporter Tim Hoover’s close examination of Penry’s charges that Ritter recklessly expanded state government suggests that Penry, not only distorts actual numbers of employees hired by the executive branch, he criticizes Ritter for growth in state government that Penry himself approved as Senate minority leader.

Penry’s own votes in the Senate that affected state hiring make it seem that, in his criticisms of Ritter, Penry is running against his own voting record. Spending he approved in the Senate, he now attributes to Ritter in order to criticize the governor.

Even the total number of jobs Ritter has added to the state payroll is subject to interpretation and debate. Republicans claim, echoed by Penry, that 4,446 positions were added by Ritter. This tally, which begins from fiscal year 2006-07 with a budget not written by Ritter, includes the executive branch, higher education and legislative employees, as well as positions hired by such other statewide elected officials as attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer, who control their own budgets.

The governor’s office reports growth of only 645 positions, counting from fiscal year 2008-09. the first year Ritter and his staff participated in writing the budget. This count includes only executive branch employees who Ritter is directly responsible for hiring, and takes into account budget cuts made last August.

Most of the government expansion Penry attributes to Ritter is, in fact, hiring for positions not under the direct control of the governor. Personnel budgets for higher education and the judicial branch, the two branches that account for most of the expansion, make their own hiring decisions based on the budget they are awarded.

Higher education accounted for 2,071 of the new positions, largely as a result of a provision in Referendum C that temporarily suspended TABOR, requiring that one-third of the money collected go to higher education. As a result, higher education spending increased during the first two years of Ritter’s term. Hiring decisions in the state’s universities and colleges are not subject to review by the governor’s office.

The judicial branch, which accounts for the second largest number of new positions, grew by 603 employees, including judges, probation officers, public defenders and court employees. Of these, 307 positions resulted from legislation co-sponsored by Penry in 2007 to increase spending for judicial operations.

While criticizing Ritter for presiding over the overall increase in state hiring, Penry says, “I don’t know who begrudges Gov. Ritter for hiring judges, parole officers and other critical personnel.”

The third largest group is 539 corrections officers. These positions resulted from increases in prison population that necessitated additional personnel.

Finally, Penry repeats the Republican claim that Ritter more than doubled the number of employees in his office from 121 to 376. Left out of this accounting is the fact that in 2008, Penry co-sponsored a bill to consolidate 212 existing information technology personnel from other state government agencies into the governor’s office as an efficiency measure. The fact that these are not new positions is apparently irrelevant to Penry’s count.

Distorting numbers and asserting half-truths about Ritter’s spending brings Penry’s own credibility into question as he inflates Ritter’s role in expanding government, while obscuring his own support for legislation contributing to government growth.

Before he undertakes to restore credibility to the Republican Party, Penry first needs to establish his own. Bogus attacks on Ritter don’t help.


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