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Lawmakers warn against hiring hundreds of new state workers

Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Legislative budget leaders warned the state Tuesday not to hire hundreds of new workers because of forecasts projecting a $694 million shortfall over the next five years.

Rep. Frank McNulty, a Republican from Highlands Ranch, said the new workers may get laid off if the state runs out of money like it did six years ago.

“Will the state have the money to pay for them? Are we setting the stage for disaster?” McNulty asked the House Appropriations Committee.



Rep. Bernie Buescher, a Grand Junction Democrat, said the state has no choice. He said nearly half the new employees will work in prisons, as probation officers and in the judiciary to cover the state’s crackdown on crime.

“I think it’s the height of hypocrisy for the Legislature to increase prison sentences and criticize the steps needed to put those individuals safely away,” Buescher said.




The committee approved the $17.6 billion bill and sent it to the full House for debate.

The Joint Budget Committee, which sets the state’s spending priorities, has proposed adding 1,334 new full-time employees, including 267 for corrections and 221 for the judiciary. Others were contract workers that are being hired as full-time state employees.

Rep. Al White, R-Hayden, said state personnel rules require contract workers to take a break for two weeks every six months.

It also includes 21 new oil and gas drilling inspectors, which upset legislators after Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, told lawmakers the state could do the job with existing staff.

Lawmakers also scrambled to find $37.5 million in financing earmarked to help build a science building on the Auraria campus that had already broken ground.

Gov. Bill Ritter and a group of state lawmakers said they wanted to use an estimated $30 million in oil and gas revenue to pay for the building and other projects at the state’s colleges and universities.

University of Colorado President Bruce Benson said the current science building is so unsafe that pregnant women are advised not to take classes there because of fumes from science experiments.

The Auraria campus houses the University of Colorado-Denver, the university’s downtown Health Sciences Center facilities, the Community College of Denver and Metropolitan State College of Denver.

Lawmakers said they worry that the slumping economy will force serious budget cuts.

House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, said the state was just beginning to recover after voters agreed in 2005 to give up an expected $6 billion in tax surplus refunds to shore up state programs.

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