Colorado lawmakers question governor’s jobs programs |

Colorado lawmakers question governor’s jobs programs

Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

GOLDEN, Colo. – When Gov. Bill Ritter announced a slew of programs to help Coloradans get jobs last December at the Jefferson County Workforce Center, unemployed workers lined the second-floor balcony and stairs.

They cheered and pumped their fists when the governor told them they could qualify for training and certificates guaranteeing better-paying jobs in the “new energy economy,” supporting renewable energy and other “green” industries. The certificates would prove employability and go to those who passed a skills test.

Two months later, Jefferson County was forced to ration its certificates and even sent some applicants to Denver because it ran short of funds.

Supporters called it a sign of success, while others said it was evidence of problems with Ritter’s jobs programs.

“We had a temporary hold on some certificates, but we’re up and running again,” said Kris Kinzli, work center spokeswoman. “We had 100 certificates left, but we didn’t have funding to purchase more and we had to ration them.”

Ritter and state officials insist the programs – funded by a mix of county, state and federal money – are effective and have put thousands of people to work. But Republicans are dubious and are backing bills that would require the governor’s office to prove how many jobs the programs have created.

Bills introduced this year that require proof of new jobs include the New Energy Jobs Creation Act, the Green Jobs Colorado Training Pilot Program and another key bill, Requirements for Economic Incentives, which skeptical Republicans tried to amend to require the governor’s office to conduct a study “of all so-called green jobs” created through tax incentives.

Democrats failed to see the humor and removed “so-called” from the bill.

Republicans say few people would qualify for the specialized new jobs, which they claim are being subsidized by consumers.

“These are just slogans,” said House Minority Leader Mike May, a Republican from Parker. “People need more than slogans. They need leadership.”

May said unemployed workers need tax cuts and less regulation for the economy to recover.

Paul Schmid, training director of the Rocky Mountain chapter of Independent Electrical Contractors in Denver, said he got a certificate from the state because he wanted to try out the program before sending recruits to take the test. He said people who come to him looking for jobs have a leg up if they’ve passed the test because he knows they’re committed and won’t need remedial training.

Ritter said at a speech last week in Washington, D.C., that the new energy economy is already producing results, including 2,500 jobs from Denmark-based Vestas Wind Systems, which made Colorado its North American manufacturing hub; and 700 jobs from SMA Solar, which is opening a manufacturing plant in Colorado this summer, its first outside Germany.

“Jobs – that’s been the biggest win for Colorado out of the new energy economy. Even in the depths of the recession, Colorado has been able to add thousands of new clean-energy jobs and attract hundreds of new clean-tech and clean-energy companies,” Ritter told the “Good Jobs, Green Jobs” conference.

Desirae Malm, a 22-year-old former waitress from Lakewood, is skeptical of Ritter’s jobs programs. Malm, who has been out of work for two years, broke into tears at the Jefferson County jobs center when staffers told her there were no jobs for which she was qualified.

“I did workshops and everything else they asked me to do, and they tell me I’m not qualified. I don’t believe them at all,” she said as she put her 2-year-old son in a stroller and again returned home empty-handed. She said only one of her four unemployed friends has gotten a job through the Jefferson County programs.

Ritter said he chose Jefferson County to unveil his jobs certificate program because he believes it proved itself in a pilot program. It’s just one of dozens of state and local programs to retrain workers to go back to work.

Jefferson County says since January of last year, the jobs program has awarded 317 certificates: 133 to workers collecting state and federal low-income assistance; 83 to businesses; and 101 to people receiving county welfare assistance.

Bill Thoennes, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, said 3,700 certificates have been issued statewide the past year and a half. People who pass tests in math, reading and other areas can get a certificate, which the state claims is proof they are employable.

Thoennes said official job-placement numbers are not available because the department is just beginning to get those statistics. But he said the program is working.

“We can say that in the first three months of the Career Ready Colorado Certificate Program, from January to March 2009, participants had an entered employment rate of 72 percent, compared to a rate of 65 percent for the larger group of Workforce Center job seekers. Even in a weak economy, the program is benefiting job seekers,” Thoennes said in a statement after The Associated Press requested job statistics.

May said he seriously doubts those success rates, and he said there is no proof Ritter’s jobs programs are working.

“Certainly his efforts to penalize some workers and reward others is just piling on. It’s not about helping the economy recover,” May said.