An eye-popping cover story by our news affiliate Colorado Politics sheds new light on why the state’s budget has been growing at a breakneck pace. And the details aren’t going to please anyone who has to drive our bottlenecked highways, or who is worried about Colorado’s skyrocketing crime — or almost anyone else who forks over some of their income to the state every year.
Bottom line: They’re not getting what they’ve paid for.
In fact, among the relatively few true beneficiaries of the state government’s surging expansion and burgeoning budget are the state’s own employees. And the rest of the taxpaying public can thank Gov. Jared Polis and his fellow Democrats in charge at the legislature.
Even amid spiking inflation, a looming recession and dwindling federal funding that had buoyed Colorado’s budget through COVID, the governor’s proposed $42.7 billion budget for next year represents a staggering 24% leap over his first budget proposal to the legislature in 2019.
What’s it paying for? As the report in Colorado Politics points out, a key factor serving to balloon the budget is state government’s rapidly expanding payroll. Both the number of employees and the pay they get are surging. Indeed, 1,069 full-time state agency positions will be added to implement and run new policies and programs. Those programs include not only the recently approved paid family leave mandate but also — in an irony that adds insult to injury — the state employee union’s new collective-bargaining agreement with the state.
That’s right: Not only will taxpayers foot the bill for a 5% percent, across-the-board wage and benefit hike for all state employees as mandated under the labor contract inked last year and updated this past fall, but there also is an additional tab for the new employees that are needed simply to meet the contract’s expectations.
So, the Department of Labor and Employment is seeking more than 350 new staff under the Polis budget proposal. The agency’s proposed budget of over $400 million is a 20% increase over its current budget. Its staff would increase from 1,345 to 1,701, or by 26.5%.
The number of all state employees will rise under the new Polis budget to 64,383. That’s an increase of 5,498, or about 10%, during Polis’ four years in office.
Meanwhile, few of the additional personnel are for bread-and-butter areas of state government where you’d think they would be needed most. The state’s prisons, for example, are hardly expanding staff at all even amid an epic crime wave. Neither is the state Department of Transportation adding staff to address our snarled and crumbling transportation grid. Only the Department of Public Safety’s request for some 220 new positions in the Polis budget makes sense in the current climate, given the need to fight crime.
As the Colorado Politics report notes, the state employee headcount has grown right along with the state budget, with the addition of more than a dozen offices, most of them through legislative action.
Government almost seems to be cloning itself. For example, one new cabinet-level agency, the Department of Early Childhood, began operations this fiscal year with more than 200 employees after having been launched just last year.
The explosion in the number of state employees has outpaced total employment growth in Colorado from November 2019 to October 2022, which was about 3%.
All of which asks and answers its own question:
What have Coloradans gotten for all the additional tax dollars they’ve pumped into their state government? More state government, of course.