Rocky article falsely described senator's comment about state workers' compensation

A November 9 Rocky Mountain News article reporting on the testimony of Gov. Bill Ritter (D) before the Colorado legislature's Joint Budget Committee the previous day distorted remarks state Sen. Steve Johnson (R-Fort Collins) made regarding compensation levels for Colorado state employees. The article's paraphrasing incorrectly made it appear that in addressing Ritter's recent executive order creating employee partnerships, Johnson had claimed that state workers “already” receive “one of the most generous compensation packages in the country.”

The distortion echoed the conservative talking point that Ritter's order is unnecessary because Colorado state employees purportedly are better compensated than government workers in most other states.

The article by Chris Barge reported that in appearing before the committee to present his first proposed budget, Ritter “defended his recent executive order giving unions a stronger voice in state government, saying it won't cost the state anything.” Barge further reported:

Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Fort Collins, told Ritter the state already gives its employees one of the most generous compensation packages in the country.

In fact, according to an audio recording of the hearing, while Johnson did raise a concern about potential long-term costs resulting from the partnership order, he did not claim that Colorado state workers' pay and benefits were among the nation's “most generous”:

From the November 8 hearing of the Colorado General Assembly's Joint Budget Committee with Gov. Bill Ritter:

JOHNSON: You brought up employee partnerships. And I don't know completely what that looks like yet. And I do agree with you that it probably will not take additional appropriations to administer the program, but I'm worried about what appropriations might result from the program, whatever it is.

And, you know, last year -- let me give you an example; last year I think, you know, we did, I think, very well by state employees with salary survey, performance pay, and I think we made a commitment to increase health, life, and dental. Last year went from 75 to 85 percent. And I didn't see in your budget proposal an increase from the 85 percent level of private benefit for health, life, and dental, and I'm just wondering why that was and what your thinking was along those lines.

Johnson apparently was referring to an annual Colorado Department of Personnel & Administration survey that assesses state workers' compensation relative to private-sector wages for similar jobs in Colorado.

Moreover, Johnson's other comments to and questions of Ritter during the hearing did not include any remarks similar to that reported by the News.