Top Senate Democrats pay bonuses while state struggles with cutbacks

Outgoing Colorado Senate President Peter Groff paid eight legislative employees $30,000 in bonuses before leaving office to take a job with the Obama administration, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.

His successor in the leadership post, Longmont Democrat Brandon Shaffer paid a $5,000 bonus to a single employee at the end of the legislative session, which saw lawmakers hacking hundreds of millions of dollars amid a state budget crisis that has led to plans for unpaid furloughs for other state employees.

Groff and Shaffer’s counterparts in the lower chamber and across the aisle didn’t pay any bonuses this year, the AP’s Steven K. Paulson reports.

Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, a Grand Junction Republican who is weighing a run for governor next year, left $10,000 from his office budget unspent this year.

“There are a lot of great workers who are not getting bonuses this year,” Penry told the AP. “These aren’t huge sums of money, but symbolism matters. Government should be sacrificing like everyone else.”

Groff and Schaffer defended the bonuses, saying they went to employees who worked long hours for low pay.

The Denver Post’s Tim Hoover details the bonuses Groff handed out:

Groff’s chief of staff, Khadija Haynes, was awarded $5,500 in addition to a salary of $81,900. Terry Whitney, the majority legislative director, received a $5,250 bonus on top of his $66,000 salary. Meanwhile, Groff’s assistant, Jennifer McIntire, received a $5,000 bonus in addition to her $44,100 salary.

“Those folks were with me early in the morning and late at night and went way above their position descriptions,” Groff said.

Four other staffers received bonuses ranging from $1,500 to $4,500.

Shaffer’s single, $5,000 bonus went to an assistant paid $8,000 over six months.

Neither House Speaker Terrance Carroll, a Denver Democrat, nor House Minority Leader Mike May, a Parker Republican, doled out bonuses to their staff this year. House leaders haven’t paid bonuses since at least 2004, The Post reports.

Carroll didn’t comment, but May said the bonuses paid by Senate Democrats sent the wrong message.

“They just don’t get it. It’s amazing. They’re so insulated by government, it’s incredible,” May told the AP.

A year ago, before the state found itself in a budget crunch, Senate Republicans were more generous than Democrats, paying $37,000 in bonuses compared to $26,250.

“That was a different leader and during different economic times,” Penry told The Post.

Democrats have held the majority in both chambers of the Legislature since 2005.

State employees face at least four unpaid furlough days in the fiscal year starting July 1.

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Ernest Luning

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