Yesterday state senate minority leader and gubernatorial candidate Josh Penry took the opportunity to respond to Governor Bill Ritter’s “kick the can down the road” budget-cutting proposals with a provocative series of questions aimed at serious reform of state government:
Is it time to abolish the Department of Local Affairs? Is it time to consolidate the bureaucracy over Higher Education? Is it time to eliminate duplicative boards and commissions? Is it time to abolish silos of patronage like the governor’s energy office? Is it time to consolidate administrative functions among the state’s 178 school districts? Is it time for the 357 state employees making more than $125,000 a year to take a permanent pay cut? Is it time to cut other bureaucracies and give those responsibilities to the lieutenant governor, whose office otherwise lacks any real responsibilities? Is it time to sell off state buildings or other assets to get old liabilities off our books and out of the General Fund? Is it time to repeal some of the battery of new or expanded programs that this governor has created? And yes, is it time to permanently reduce the state’s payroll demands by eliminating certain non-essential state jobs?
These are not easy questions with easy answers, but these are the kinds of fundamental reforms that government must make in order to pay for essential services like schools, roads and public safety.
Senator Penry is upping the ante on these important debates, demonstrating a long-term vision and not backing down from serious challenges. This isn’t the approach of someone trying to coast into office and simply make a name for himself. He has given serious thought to how to provide leadership on these broad reforms, and has pointed to the example of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels — who, as the Penry campaign highlighted from a recent Wall Street Journal interview, has cut spending growth and reformed Hoosier State government.
Nevertheless, Democrat House Speaker Terrance Carroll — doubtless out of no personal ill will — shot back with some criticisms. Penry’s latest retort just came out over email:
Welcome to the budget debate Mr. Speaker. We heard scarcely a word from Democrats in the legislature when Bill Ritter started releasing convicted criminals from prison, or when the Governor pushed the developmentally disabled out of basic services. But now that someone has the audacity to propose consolidating a board or a commission, eliminating an unnecessary department or doing away with a non-essential government job, my Democratic friends are in full hyper ventilation.
And if Speaker Carroll thinks a silo of patronage packed with political appointments is the source of private sector job creation, then he must have been absent the day they taught economics in school.
The truth is, this is exactly the debate Colorado needs. Does Colorado want higher taxes, higher fees and big government spread thin, or do they want tough choices, fundamental reform and disciplined decision making that forces tax dollars to the basic functions of government? It’s the debate that will define the next General Assembly, and I say let the debate begin.
If nothing else, I think it’s great that Senator Penry wants to steer the debate in the serious direction of discussing how state government can be made leaner and limited to doing core functions for the people of Colorado, and doing them well. I’m impelled to ask: Is this the kind of debate fellow Republican challenger Scott McInnis wants to avoid?
Otherwise, I’m not sure how we will ever get McInnis off the pre-fab talking points to address serious long-term reforms like those Penry is proposing. What does McInnis want to do besides not being Ritter? I believe this sort of questions can help us decide not only who will be our best general election candidate but mainly who has what it takes to make effective, positive use out of the governor’s office.