FBy Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Corrections Officer Pam Kahanic has already had her throat slashed by an inmate.
On Friday, she called upon state lawmakers not to allow anymore blind slashing — this time to the state budget.
She and fellow critics of across-the-board cuts to the state budget point to examples such as hers in urging state lawmakers not to cut budgets without investigating what impact the cuts would have.
Kahanic was attacked in 2007 when prisons were still under-staffed as a result of 588 full-time state employees being laid off in 2002 during the last recession.
They point to legislation backed by Republicans, but already killed by Democrats, that would have implemented across-the-board cuts to the state budget as a means of covering the state’s $1.5 billion shortfall in next year’s budget. One piece of legislation would have cut 291 more corrections jobs. Another 90 corrections jobs have already been cut from this year’s budget.
Senate Bill 168, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, would have cut the state budget by 4.4 percent next fiscal year. The Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee killed the measure last week on a 3-2 party-line vote.
Kahanic, who described her harrowing hostage situation at Limon Correctional Facility in detail on Friday, said such across-the-board cuts would impact the corrections budget at a time when equipment is failing and staff is struggling to keep up with inmates. Gov. Bill Ritter has already had to authorize opening 33 percent, or 316 beds, of the new Colorado State Penitentiary II after a string of incidents caused by some of the state’s most violent and destructive prisoners who are being housed in regular prisons.
Meanwhile, Ritter also authorized closing a corrections boot camp program at the Buena Vista Correctional Facility.
In an attempt to protect the corrections budget, Kahanic described being taken hostage in September 2007 by an inmate who slashed her throat during the ordeal. Radio communication was working that day and fellow officers were able to rush to the rescue — but they say they “got lucky” because radio equipment often fails at the facility and there is no money to buy new equipment.
“We just can’t afford to have any more staff taken away from us,” said a calm and collected Kahanic.
Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo, was not so collected at the news conference on Friday. Pausing to fight back tears often, McFadyen lashed out at Republicans for what she and supporters call “The Republicans’ Cut Without Consequences” budget proposals. She pointed to three inmate murders over the last several months, as well as Kahanic’s story and the story of corrections officer Eric Autobee, who was murdered at Limon in 2002. Autobee’s father, Robert, was in attendance at the news conference Friday.
Calling her Republican colleagues “dangerous,” McFadyen said across-the-board cuts would impact the corrections system in such a way that lives would be put in danger.
“I would just ask my colleagues, instead of suggesting an across-the-board cut, listen to people who actually walk the toughest beat in law enforcement, and listen to someone who lost their son walking the toughest beat in law enforcement,” said McFadyen.
Republicans, however, defend their proposal, arguing that it beats the Democrats’ proposal, which has been to eliminate an estimated $300 million in tax credits and incentives enjoyed by business.
“The choice presented is plain: raise taxes, again, or cut spending,” Penry said in a statement. “After specific spending cuts offered by Republicans have been rejected time and time again, we are proposing a different road to the same destination: across-the-board spending cuts that eliminate the need for tax increases.”
But Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, disagreed, suggesting that such a proposal is “irresponsible.”
“It’s just irresponsible, it’s rude, it’s mean to go after people whose lives are on the line every single day and say that’s where we need to cut our government,” said Pace. “We do have to make cuts, we have made cuts, but not at the expense of our safety and the safety of our society.”